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.
Giving evidence today, John Albon was taken back over much of the ground covered by witnesses from the British Board of Agrément (BBA) over the past week in relation to its certificates for Kingspan K15 insulation and Reynobond PE 55 cladding panels.
In relation to the K15 certificate, first issued in 2008, Mr Albon was asked how the BBA was able to conclude that it had a ‘Class 0’ fire rating, despite having been given no test data that confirmed this standard.
He explained that on review of the file, he discovered tests on a range of other Kingspan insulation products to this standard, which led him to conclude that the BBA had extrapolated the standard to apply to this product, too.
“Are you able to accept… that this was a very basic failure of due diligence on the part of the BBA?” asked Kate Grande, counsel to the inquiry.
“Yes,” Mr Albon replied.
In fact, Kingspan was struggling to obtain a ‘Class 0’ pass for K15 throughout this period – eventually obtaining it only by testing the aluminium foil facing separate to the combustible foam insulation product.
He was also asked why the front sheet of the certificate contained a statement saying the product “will not contribute to the development stages of a fire or present a smoke or toxic hazard”.
Mr Albon said that the BBA “cannot substantiate” this statement about K15, which is made from combustible phenolic foam.
“Do you accept the wording is misleading given that K15 is neither non-combustible or a material of limited combustibility?” Ms Grange asked.
“Yes, if taken in isolation, but you must read the full certificate,” he replied.
Mr Albon was also grilled about revisions to the certificate in 2010 which said that the material could be used “in accordance with” paragraph 12.7 of Approved Document B – the official building guidance for England and Wales.
This paragraph set the standard of ‘limited combustibility’ for insulation products used on buildings taller than 18m. K15 did not meet this standard.
Asked if this line was “misleading and potentially dangerously so”, Mr Albon said: “I agree it’s misleading, I don’t agree that it’s dangerous because you should read the whole certificate and it does not state that the product is of limited combustibility.”
The BBA was challenged on this wording by Brian Martin, a senior civil servant at the Department for Communities and Local Government (now known as the MHCLG) in July 2014.
Mr Albon responded by saying that the wording was the result of “an unfortunate and rare oversight”.
A further internal email, shown to the inquiry today, showed another BBA staff member saying the project manager for this certificate, George Lee, “used to be careless”.
Mr Albon was also grilled on the certificate the BBA issued for the Reynobond aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used on Grenfell Tower.
Last week, the inquiry heard that the BBA failed to obtain crucial test data from cladding manufacturer Arconic that showed the product had achieved a poorer fire performance than that stated on the BBA’s certificate.
Mr Albon said he did not think the BBA’s procedures “were ever designed to cope with a situation where a manufacturer would deliberately withhold fire test data from the BBA”.
“We may well have been naive but I don’t think that suspicions that someone was deliberately misrepresenting the performance of their product in a safety critical manner would have occurred to us,” he said.
Ms Grange also asked Mr Albon about the BBA’s decision to begin including references to 18m height restrictions on some of the products it certificated.
Since the fire at Grenfell, the government has stated that its building regulations did not permit the use of ACM cladding on buildings over 18m tall as the core of the product was not of “limited combustibility”.
However, many in the industry disagree with this, arguing that the government’s “limited combustibility” requirement did not apply to cladding.
The inquiry heard last week that the BBA was planning to include wording on its Reynobond certificate stating that the product could not be used on buildings taller than 18m before the fire at Grenfell, but this change was not introduced until after the fire.
Mr Albon said it “wasn’t clear” to the BBA whether the government’s regulations permitted the use of ACM over 18m, but that it decided to take the “conservative view”.
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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 week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came not 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.