The final week in this section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry primarily examined the attempts by insulation manufacturer Kingspan to lobby the government after the fire. Peter Apps reports
This week the inquiry returned to hearing evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, which provided some of the insulation used on the walls of Grenfell Tower.
While the majority of the witnesses from the firm gave evidence in December last year, its very final witness, Richard Burnley, former managing director for UK & Ireland, was cut short when the inquiry paused due to the pandemic.
The reason he waited so long to return is that he was to be questioned about Kingspan’s lobbying efforts in the aftermath of the fire and while the inquiry was paused, Kingspan challenged this. They claimed questions about tests the firm carried out to bolster its case that combustible materials should not be banned were put in error.
This also necessitated the return of another witness, Adrian Pargeter, head of technical and marketing in Britain and Ireland, to clarify the evidence he had given about this period.
Here is what we learned.
As well as the post-Grenfell lobbying, there were a couple of important elements of the firm’s pre-fire actions which were examined.
One of these was a marketing pamphlet titled ‘Routes to Compliance’ (pictured above), which Kingspan published in August 2015 to outline to the market how its products could be used in compliance with the rules.
This document included two case studies – Brook House in Tottenham, north London and Spruce Court in Pendleton, Salford – which paired Kingspan’s combustible insulation with the polyethylene-cored cladding panels used on Grenfell Tower.
This is important, because in Mr Burnley’s witness statement he said checks carried out by the firm after the Grenfell fire did not reveal any instances where its insulation had been used with this cladding with Kingspan’s knowledge.
In fact it emerged that the firm had sent a letter to the developers of the Salford tower which specifically said “we can confirm… [we] are happy that the build-up you propose is suitable to include K15”.
The summary Kingspan had been sent included the detail that the cladding was to be ‘Reynobond 4mm’, the same brand of aluminium composite material (ACM) as used on Grenfell Tower. Mr Burnley said he was not sure Kingspan knew the exact core of the planned cladding when it provided the letter.
The second area of important information this week concerned the UK’s largest private building inspector, the National House Building Council (NHBC).
We have previously heard that the organisation raised significant concerns about the use of Kingspan’s insulation on high-rise buildings throughout 2014, culminating in a letter in January 2015 which threatened to start rejecting it and reveal to the market that the NHBC did not believe it was compliant.
But what we also know is that in July 2016 the NHBC had entirely reversed this view and published guidance that endorsed the use of K15 and other combustible products even in untested systems with popular cladding panels. The big question has been, why the volte-face?
This week we saw new emails which showed Kingspan reacting to the publication of the guidance shortly after its publication.
Mr Pargeter wrote that the new guidance “effectively eased the passage of compliance for a selection of combustible insulation brands”.
“Overall I feel this is good news as it shows a shift in thinking and an acceptance of combustible insulation and I am sure is a direct result of our testing and campaigning on this issue,” he said.
“What is the campaigning that he is referring to there?” asked Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry.
“I assume by campaigning he means the meetings that we’ve had with various people, including the NHBC, to explain the test results,” said Mr Burnley.
Much of this week’s evidence related to Kingspan’s actions after the Grenfell Tower fire and its efforts to ensure regulations did not introduce a ban on combustible materials on high-rise buildings and instead continued to permit systems that had passed a large-scale test.
As the inquiry heard in December, the firm made contact with two large public relations firms – Grayling and Portland – and set about devising a plan to meet key MPs and persuade them of its argument.
“Some people will not want to meet you and they will not want to be lobbied,” said a strategy document produced by Portland in August 2017 entitled ‘Kingspan, political engagement plan’ (pictured above). “But there is still immeasurable value in getting Kingspan’s manifesto in front of these decision-makers. We want them to read it. We need them to read it.”
On 6 September 2017, an internal Kingspan email discussed the government’s latest advice to building owners following recent cladding tests. It suggested “a friendly tap on the shoulder” to raise its views with the then Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). “We want to remain ’friends’ with DCLG,” the email said.
“What kind of relationship did Kingspan have with the DCLG that would accommodate this friendly tap?” asked Mr Millett.
“My understanding is that we didn’t have a strong relationship with DCLG. I think people probably knew people, but I don’t think there was any strong relationships,” replied Mr Burnley.
Kingspan’s lobbying efforts continued, including a dinner with Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake and others in January 2018, when Kingspan presented its views on the importance of testing. Mr Hollinrake was given a ‘double asterix’ in Kingspan’s original lobbying plan, because the firm was a large employer in his constituency and he sat on an influential select committee which was examining the post-Grenfell response of government.
This was a crucial period. The government had instructed Dame Judith Hackitt to undertake a post-fire review of building regulations and by spring 2018 her report was imminent. She had signalled that she would not call for a ban on combustible materials and would instead endorse the system of testing and desktop studies with some reforms. This would have represented a win for Kingspan.
But the select committee stood in its way. It was convinced a ban would be a safer route and was pushing for it. Kingspan needed something to change the debate.
What Kingspan sought to do was use a large-scale test on a non-combustible system to show that these materials could also produce unsafe results.
This is where the alteration to Mr Pargeter’s (pictured above) evidence comes in. In December, he was grilled over evidence which showed Kingspan planning to test a system comprised of non-combustible elements, but deliberately designing in defects aimed to make it fail.
He had been questioned on the premise that this test failed in July 2018 and was used to support Kingspan’s case against the combustibles ban
Actually, it transpired that despite the deliberately induced weaknesses, the test passed in May 2018. He accepted, when questioned this week, that this was “a disappointment” to Kingspan.
But why had he not mentioned it when he first gave evidence? His claim was that under the pressure of cross-examination he “forgot”.
“I have to suggest to you that that’s not really credible, is it?” asked Mr Millett.
“Well, what other reason would I have for withholding that?” replied Mr Pargeter.
“One reason might be that you had never hitherto mentioned even the existence of the May test and the blow that it dealt to your case, let alone disclosed any documents about it. That would be a good reason for not mentioning it when you were giving evidence, wouldn’t it?” said Mr Millett.
“No, I wouldn’t have thought − I wouldn’t have thought that, no,” replied Mr Pargeter.
So what of the July test which did fail? It transpired this was carried out on a system which utilised a product called ‘Vitracore G2’. This material had an ‘A2’ rating, meaning it could be used in spite of the combustibles ban, but Kingspan was aware it actually had a much lower fire performance and had been involved in previous test failures with one internal email saying it would “go up like [polyethylene]”.
This test was carried out in Dubai and duly failed. Kingspan went on to present the findings to the select committee, but did not reveal that the Vitracore product had been picked because of its poor fire performance. Why not?
Mr Pargeter claimed that this was because the product had an A2 rating, so regardless of any suspected weakness, it could still be used following a ban. He denied that concealing this – and the May test – amounted to misleading the select committee.
“Do you accept that your attempts following your evidence on 9 December 2020 to set the record straight have simply been to create a further record of dissembling and mendacity, Mr Pargeter?” asked Mr Millett.
“No,” replied Mr Pargeter.
Asked about this same sequence of events, Mr Burnley (pictured above) – who actually presented the evidence to the select committee and whose signature appeared on the letter describing the tests – claimed he had not known about the failed attempts to set up the May test for failure.
He insisted Kingspan did not act for commercial reasons and was simply concerned about public safety, honestly believing testing to be the best way to achieve this.
“Are you really going to sit there and say that?” asked Mr Millett.
“That was my belief,” Mr Burnley replied.
He was then shown an email exchange between other Kingspan colleagues which said he had been chosen to give evidence because “he knows enough but not too much, which is helpful”.
“Would it be fair… to say that you were set up by others at Kingspan as Kingspan’s useful idiot, who knew the case message, could speak very articulately to it, but not the fact that it rested on flimsy evidence?” asked Mr Millett.
“I don’t believe that’s the case, no. If that had been the case then I wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to go,” replied Mr Burnley.
Mr Millett then repeated to him a question he asked Mr Pargeter in December: “Is it true that Kingspan’s position, even in 2018, in the face of a government investigation into 14 fire safety following the Grenfell Tower fire, was to do its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain?”
Mr Burnley said he “did not accept that at all”.
Almost two weeks of evidence from witnesses at the British Board of Agrément (BBA) also concluded this week, with chief scientific officer John Albon (pictured above) grilled about certificates the organisation issued covering the Kingspan K15 insulation and Reynobond PE 55 cladding panels used on Grenfell Tower.
Much of this cross-examination retraced evidence from previous weeks, but towards the end of his evidence, counsel Kate Grange QC turned to a broader theme.
She read from descriptions of the BBA on its website, which said it “set the standard for excellence” based on “independence” and an “unrivalled track record”. It called itself “the leading authority on building product certification; a position we’ve held for more than 50 years”.
Ms Grange then ran through the various failures the inquiry has identified in the BBA’s work:
“In the light of all of that, do you accept that the work of the BBA fell a long way short of the standards of excellence advertised by the BBA on its website?” asked Ms Grange.
Mr Albon said he accepted “mistakes were made”, but said that he hoped “suitably experienced and knowledgeable professionals” could still have made use of the certificate.
“Do you also accept that the BBA has shown itself to be toothless and weak in its dealings with product manufacturers?” Ms Grange asked.
“No, I don’t agree with that,” said Mr Albon. He said this was because the organisation had withdrawn its certificate covering Arconic’s cladding panels after a BBC journalist alerted them to additional tests after the fire.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has now concluded this module, which focused on the testing and marketing of the products used on the tower. You can read our summary of what we learned here.
We now move focus to the social housing management of the tower, which will include matters such as resident complaints, fire risk assessments and the maintenance of the tower.
Opening statements for that section of the inquiry will begin on Monday.
A manager at insulation manufacturer Kingspan has denied being used as a “useful idiot” during the firm’s push against plans to ban combustible materials in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The UK’s largest building inspector published guidance saying it would accept the use of untested combustible cladding systems “as a direct result” of “campaigning” by insulation manufacturer Kingspan, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard.
A senior Kingspan director denied attempts to “mislead” MPs investigating the dangers of cladding systems after Grenfell by “concealing” testing it carried out on non-combustible cladding systems.
The chief scientific officer at the UK’s leading certification body for construction products has accepted “a very basic failure of due diligence” in producing a certificate covering the combustible Kingspan insulation later used on Grenfell Tower.
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.
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