Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Pete Apps recaps
“Well, they were destroyed, you binned them”
Monday’s evidence session started with a bombshell announcement.
It emerged that Peter Maddison, director of assets at KCTMO, had disclosed on Friday (16 October) that there was a stash of eight day books and five diaries running to 300 pages in length. They covered the period from January 2013 to May 2017 and contained – in the words of lead counsel Richard Millett – material of “the utmost relevance” to the inquiry’s work.
This shocking discovery raised a very difficult question for Mr Maddison and KCTMO’s solicitors Kennedy’s: why had he not handed them over sooner?
But before this news had time to sink in, it was superseded by an even bigger revelation when Monday morning’s witness, Claire Williams, project manager for the refurbishment, took the stand. She was immediately asked whether she had disclosed all her diaries.
“Yes,” she replied. “I left the TMO in May 2018 and I binned all of them but the last one.”
“You binned them, even though you knew by that time that there was already on foot a public inquiry?” asked an incredulous inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
“I believe I looked at them and they were notes,” she said. “Everything that was in there I would have thought is actually documented elsewhere.”
Pressed further, she was unable to say with certainty whether this took place before or after the police attended to clear her desk, or whether or not she had been advised to retain all relevant evidence.
“Have you ever informed the Metropolitan Police that you had destroyed documents which were relevant to their investigation?” asked Mr Millett.
“No, I didn’t,” she replied. “Because it’s not occurred to me. Today’s the first time that I’ve ever really had a conversation about this.”
“They weren’t destroyed, I didn’t rip pages out of them,” she added. “So it wasn’t a conscious ‘I’m hiding anything’ decision – it was: I am clearing my desk.”
“Well, they were destroyed – you binned them,” said Mr Millett.
“I put them in the bin, yes,” she replied.
A few hours later, the police issued a statement saying that it would “seek to establish the facts and assess whether a criminal offence may have been committed”.
The questioning of Mr Maddison about why he did not disclose the diaries will take place on Monday.
Some of the most important moments in Claire Williams’ (pictured) evidence related to precisely what assurances she had received about the fire safety of the cladding being installed.
The first of these related to claims made by her colleague, David Gibson, that following a specific question during a project meeting about the cladding’s safety, Rydon’s project manager Simon Lawrence had told him it was “inert” and “would not burn”.
No minutes of this meeting have ever been found, Mr Lawrence has denied it and no other witness except Ms Williams can recall it being said.
However, Ms Williams was adamant that the conversation happened. She said she recalled hearing it said at the meeting, and then printing and reading the minutes in the KCTMO offices for Mr Gibson.
Except, as it emerged this week, Ms Williams did not mention this in her first witness statement, which she made in February 2019 – she added it to an updated statement in September.
“Are you sure that your evidence isn’t an attempt to reconstruct a conversation that never actually took place?” asked Mr Millett.
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” she replied.
Ms Williams was also asked about an email she sent in November 2014, which has become known in the inquiry as her “Lacknall moment” (sic).
Referring to the 2009 fire in Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009, Ms Williams wrote to Mr Lawrence: “I am just writing to get clarification on the fire retardance of the new cladding – I just had a ‘Lacknall’ moment.”
She queried in the email whether the cladding met specified standards but no reply has ever been found. Asked this week why she didn’t chase for one, she said she thought Mr Lawrence “would have” replied orally at a site meeting the following week.
“He would have said, ‘Of course it meets those standards.’”
“Do you have any recollection of him actually answering that question in that way?” asked Mr Millett.
“No,” replied Ms Williams.
Asked why she would have sent this email if she had been given a separate assurance by Mr Lawrence that the cladding was inert, she said it was “to keep the thought in one’s mind”.
“That doesn’t make any sense, with great respect, Ms Williams,” replied Mr Millett.
A further opportunity to check the safety of the cladding came in the form of a fire risk assessment of the planned works that KCTMO’s risk assessor Carl Stokes carried out in October 2014.
He advised KCTMO that it should gather certain information from Rydon as a high priority, including “the fire rating of the cladding and the fixings”.
This task was allocated to Ms Williams. Some six months later in April 2015, she emailed Simon O’Connor, a site manager for Rydon, asking for this information – directly cutting and pasting from the risk assessment, without even correcting typos.
“Why were you only doing this now?” asked Mr Millett.
Ms Williams claimed she had verbally asked him earlier, although there is no email record of this.
Two months later in June, she re-forwarded him the email, changing the subject header to: “URGENT, URGENT, URGENT: Grenfell FRA – outstanding items”.
“Simon, I think you could polish this off quickly, don’t you?” she wrote.
She claimed, however, that she had spoken to him about it “many times”.
“Why is there nothing in your witness statement about that?” asked Mr Millett.
“My witness statement covers areas that I was aware of that I thought would be of importance to the inquiry,” she replied, emphasising that it was a “long project”.
She claimed this was ultimately dealt with by “sitting down together” with Mr O’Connor to get the answer. But in the end, no information about the fire rating for the cladding was included in Mr Stokes’ final risk assessment for the tower in June 2016.
Ms Williams also accepted she had given a fire strategy for the project – a separate document prepared by consultancy Exova – no more than a “cursory” read when she joined the project in January 2013.
She said that as a result, she was unaware of a line that said the impact of the designs on “external fire spread” would need to be confirmed “by an analysis in a future issue of this report”.
No future issue was ever written. She was unable to explain why on a spreadsheet tracing work on the project she had annotated the column on Exova with the words “need more fire strategy work” in November 2015 – other than to say she may have added it at an earlier time.
A question that has hung over much of the evidence relating to the procurement of the contract to refurbish Grenfell Tower has been the relationships between key figures at KCTMO and the successful contractor Rydon – and whether the firm received favourable treatment as a result of those relationships.
When he gave evidence, Mr Maddison accepted that he knew Steve Blake, a director at Rydon who was involved in winning the Grenfell contract, from a previous job at Hyde Housing. However, he claimed he only knew him “in the same way that I knew his equivalents in most of the main contractors”.
Notes from his (newly disclosed) diaries show he asked them for a cost comparison as early as February 2013 – when the scheme was being delivered by Leadbitter – and gave them a “heads up” when Leadbitter was dropped and a new contractor was being sought.
Jumping forward to March 2014, Rydon had bid for the work alongside two rivals and was in first place, having entered the lowest quote of £9.2m. But this was still £800,000 higher than KCTMO’s budget.
An email sent by Mr Blake on 6 March 2014 – before the process concluded – shows he met with senior KCTMO staff at the housing conference in Brighton.
“We have been informally advised that we are in pole position – ours to lose,” he wrote.
Asked if he felt the tip-off was “improper”, Mr Maddison conceded that he thought it was “unwise”. He accepted he was at the conference, but said he could not recall any meetings with Rydon.
Emails from 10 March 2014 show Rydon planning to take Mr Maddison and a colleague “for a lunch or evening meal if they would prefer” in central London later in April – apparently to celebrate the award of the contract, which had not yet been formally given to them.
Emails between KCTMO and Rydon over the next three days informed the contractor it was in first place.
Conversations then began about saving £800,000, with specific reference to switching to a cheaper cladding material.
All of this is strictly against procurement rules as it preempted the formal award of the contract to Rydon.
Mr Maddison argued that it was only preparatory work: they just wanted an indication from Rydon as to whether the cost-cutting was possible. He called the proposals “illustrative”.
“Well, it was more than that, wasn’t it?” said Mr Millett. “There was a list of specific items which were potential candidates for price reductions, including the cladding.”
Mr Maddison insisted it was intended simply to gain an indication of the potential scope for cost-cutting. He will continue to be questioned about this when he returns on Monday.
The Lakanal House fire also came up with Mr Maddison, who was asked about KCTMO’s response to recommendations made by the coroner who was investigating the six deaths in the fire.
In particular, he was pressed on what KCTMO had done in response to the coroner’s assessment that housing providers should be “encouraged” to retrofit sprinklers into their high rises.
A note from a KCTMO board meeting in May 2013 said: “Recently asked the [London Fire Brigade] to confirm where they require sprinklers to be fitted and as yet no requirement to retrofit in high-rise blocks. A number of other landlords, most notably Southwark, have commissioned feasibility studies, however, they have confirmed that there is currently no resources to fund this.”
Mr Maddison was asked whether money was the “stumbling block” that prevented sprinkler retrofit being carried out, which he described as a “very complicated issue”.
“I don’t think we ever got as far as getting a full cost of what it would be, and I think some of the other issues were the practical issues of how to do it, so there wasn’t a full considered approach to our strategy in relation to sprinklers,” he said.
“Would it be fair to say that because you didn’t have to do it, you didn’t do it?” asked Mr Millett.
“I think that’s a fair enough thing to say, but I think it was probably more complicated than that,” he replied. “Issues around the feasibility and the management of the systems was problematic, too.”
Inside Housing has previously obtained the full papers from the meeting – which were not released by the inquiry this week. They show that Janice Wray, head of health and safety at the organisation, was given a tip-off that the requirements “will not become mandatory”.
“Initial indications from [the Department for Communities and Local Government] are that these recommendations are unlikely to be taken up,” she wrote.
This was before ministers had officially responded to the coroner’s recommendations. Ms Wray is set to give evidence in module three.
The project manager of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted that she binned her records and notes relating to the refurbishment a year after the fire.
Police will consider whether a crime has been committed after a witness to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry yesterday admitted to binning records relating to the building’s refurbishment a year after the fire.
Legally required fire safety information about Grenfell Tower following the building’s refurbishment was left “incomplete” and “insufficient” after the completion of the project, the inquiry heard today.
The company that managed Grenfell Tower considered the retrofitting of sprinklers in its high rises in the aftermath of a previous deadly tower block fire but never pursued it, as doing so would have been “very complicated”, the inquiry heard today.
Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry
After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means
Week three: Architects of misfortune
This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points
Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’
The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment
Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’
Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon
Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’
Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence
Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’
Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks
Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’
This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor
Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’
With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’
With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report
Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’
With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports
Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’
This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports
Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’
Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps
Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’
This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps
Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment
Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block
Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’
The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports
Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’
As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings
Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story
Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’
This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports
Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’
The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’
In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports
Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’
This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’
The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.
Week 26: 'You were taking an enormous risk, weren't you?'
Week 26 at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a key moment in understanding how dangerous products used on the tower came to be accepted by industry professionals. Dominic Brady reports
Week 27: ‘What will happen if one building made out [of] PE core is in fire and will kill 60 to 70 persons?’
The most explosive evidence this week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came from those who did not attend, as the evidence which would have been presented to Arconic witnesses was displayed in their absence. Peter Apps reports
Week 28: ‘This is a serious safety matter’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry zeroed in on the British Board of Agrément, the body that produced “misleading” certificates which inspired trust in both the cladding and insulation used on the tower. Lucie Heath reports
Week 29: ‘Is it true that Kingspan’s position… was to do its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain?’
The final week in this section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry primarily examined the attempts by insulation manufacturer Kingspan to lobby government after the fire. Peter Apps reports
How the products used in Grenfell Tower's cladding system were tested and sold
As the section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry examining how the products used in the cladding system were tested, marketed and sold comes to a close, Peter Apps summarises what we have learned about each of the products included in the system
Week 30: ‘There is certainly a high probability that in the event of a fire the whole building can become an inferno’
The focus of the inquiry shifted this week to the actions of the social housing providers responsible for maintaining Grenfell Tower. Pete Apps recaps what we learned
Week 31: ‘If we cannot get out people will die’
This week saw the former residents of Grenfell Tower enter the witness box to tell of their experiences attempting to raise complaints with the council and its managing agent. Pete Apps reports
Week 32: ‘Let's hope our luck holds and there isn't a fire’
This week saw the return of the landlord of Grenfell Tower, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), as senior staff members attempted to explain how vital fire safety protections at the block were allowed to fall into disrepair. Lucie Heath reports
Week 33: ‘Isn't that a serious gap in the scope of a policy meant to safeguard vulnerable people?’
A slightly disjointed week at the Grenfell Tower inquiry saw further evidence from staff at building manager Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) interspersed with the views of a cladding expert. Peter Apps reports
Week 34: ‘Some members of the community are doing their best to spread false information’
Jack Simpson covers all the major revelations from the past week of evidence at the Grenfell Inquiry, including evidence from Laura Johnson, director of housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Week 35: ‘I really didn’t like the champagne’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw council witnesses, including former deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen and leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, questioned about their role in the story for the first time. Peter Apps reports
Week 36: ‘Is that not a very incurious approach for a fire risk assessor?’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry scrutinised the work of Carl Stokes, the man hired to carry out fire risk assessments for the block. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week 37: ‘In giving that advice, weren’t you acting beyond your knowledge and expertise?’
A curtailed week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw fire risk assessor Carl Stokes grilled over advice he gave regarding the tower’s cladding. Peter Apps reports
Week 38: ‘Well it’s a bit more than that, isn’t it. He’s suggesting that you tell the LFB a lie’
The inquiry heard the mammoth cross-examination of KCTMO’s health and safety manager Janice Wray this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 39: ‘What you said there was a grotesque understatement’
This week the inquiry continued to hear from former employees of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as well as two employees from the London Fire Brigade. Lucie Heath reports
Week 40: ‘An exercise in concealment and half-truth’
Former KCTMO chief executive Robert Black gave his evidence to the inquiry this week and was asked to account for the various failures described over the previous six weeks. Peter Apps and Nathaniel Barker report.
Week 41: ‘We should do nothing. This is not the sort of website we should be responding to’
This week saw the return of Robert Black, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), before the inquiry turned its attention to the defective smoke control system in the tower. Dominic Brady reports
Week 42:‘They would leak as much as they leaked. They were what they were’
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continued its in-depth investigation of the tower’s non-compliant smoke control system this week, with evidence from the various contractors involved in delivering it. Pete Apps reports.
Week 43:‘Contractors at the time were not generally aware of the importance of leaving holes unsealed’
This week the inquiry focused on two of the more overlooked areas of the Grenfell Tower fire, with evidence focusing on the gas pipelines and lifts within the west London block. It was a packed week, with five witnesses giving evidence. Jack Simpson reports
Week 44:‘I've never seen a fully compliant firefighting lift in any local authority building, to this day actually’
This week the inquiry turn the focus onto the building’s defective lifts, with evidence from an expert, contractors who worked on them and a former engineer at KCTMO. Pete Apps reports.
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