The cladding sub-contractor for Grenfell Tower was “confused” by basic fire standards for cladding products and “took it on trust” from the manufacturers that they were compliant, the inquiry into the fire heard today.
Ray Bailey, the founder and managing director of Harley Facades, was grilled today on the selection of combustible Celotex RS5000 insulation and deadly Reynobond PE 55 aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding for the walls of Grenfell.
In other evidence today, it was revealed:
At the time of the project, rules required insulation to be of limited combustibility – which Celotex was not – or in a system justified by a large-scale test.
But Mr Bailey today said he erroneously believed that a statement in Celotex’s marketing material saying that the product was ‘Class 0 throughout’ meant it met the limited combustibility standard.
“I think this was always described as Class 0 throughout. This was a confusion of mine and also throughout the industry,” he said.
He added that he believed the product could be used with ACM, despite having been tested with far less combustible cement fibre cladding panels. He said he based this assumption on conversations with Celotex.
“They [Celotex] said it was safe and acceptable to use it in the configuration we had. If they had told us it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be on the building,” said Mr Bailey.
“Did anybody at Harley undertake any independent verification or did you just take it on trust from Celotex?” asked Richard Millett, counsel to the inquiry.
“Celotex are a major insulation manufacturer… we do not expect to be misled by them, so yes, we trusted what they told us,” said Mr Bailey.
“Even though they had a vested interest in making sure you bought the product because they were making it and selling it?” asked Mr Millett.
“Yes. How… why would they lie to us?” replied Mr Bailey.
Celotex is yet to give evidence, but has denied that it had any design responsibility in its opening statement. Shown email correspondence with the firm in the afternoon, Mr Bailey conceded that the emails did not amount to confirmation that the product was safe for Grenfell.
Regarding the ACM, Mr Bailey was grilled in detail about his understanding of a certificate from the British Board of Agrement (BBA) that appeared to show the product had a Class 0 rating.
Unlike the insulation, this would have made it compliant with the basic standards in government guidance.
But Mr Bailey was unable to explain why he had not noted disclaimers in the certificate surrounding issues such as changes of colour, or that the Class 0 rating it afforded the panels apparently related to the “surface” only.
He said he had reviewed the certificate in 2008 when it was first issued and was then content to use ACM in Harley projects on high-rise buildings.
He said he was “absolutely not” made aware of tests in France that had shown the product had a rock-bottom fire rating of Class E when cut into cassette form.
Later in the day, the inquiry was shown a drawing of the top of the windows that had been annotated “weak link for fire” by cavity barrier provider Siderise.
Asked about this, Mr Bailey said he believed that Chris Mort, who made the note, had “got the wrong end of the stick”, but admitted that he did not raise it with building control and conceded “that would have been the better thing to do”.
He earlier explained that missing cavity barriers at the top of windows, in breach of official guidance, were left out because of a general belief in the industry that they were not necessary.
“This comes back to the industry practice that if you have got a single window in a compartment it’s not always regarded as necessary,” he said. “I accept according to Approved Document B [government guidance] that is an incorrect assumption.”
This was despite that fact that Harley’s own report into a fire at another block with ACM cladding identified that “the Harley-designed fire break system” prevented fire from spreading between flats.
He was also grilled about the appointment of his son, Ben Bailey, in February 2015 as project manager. Ben had previously project-managed only one job – Merit House in Barnet. Inside Housing revealed in June that this building is among 14 other Harley projects that have required urgent remediation since the fire.
Mr Bailey said his son had worked for the company “during school and university holidays since 2009, so he’s very familiar with project management”.
The inquiry also saw an internal Harley email shortly before its appointment in 2014 which warned that items would “need looking at by our proposed Grenfell House [sic] construction team”.
“And therein lies the problem,” the email said. “We don’t fucking have one.”
It added: “Unless we can gear up and service it we are doomed to fail.”
Mr Bailey said that an additional designer was appointed following this email, which meant Harley could cope with the work.
Asked at the end of his evidence what he would do differently, an emotional Mr Bailey said: “There is no one in the construction team working on Grenfell or on the hundreds of other buildings across the UK, who would have thought for one minute that anything we were doing would be unsafe. But if I could go back in time armed with what I know now – certification, testing regimes, caveats, the misinterpretation of building regulations…
“This stuff – Reynobond, Celotex, Kingspan – none of it would be on the wall. The legislation is complicated to use, it’s not very clear. I think any form of combustible insulation or cladding should be banned immediately. That’s not my place to say but if building regs banned it, it wouldn’t be on the buildings.”
The inquiry continues tomorrow with another Harley witness, Mark Harris.
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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