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.
Claire Williams, project manager of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment for Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), admitted to having destroyed notes of her work on the project despite being aware of the public inquiry and police investigation.
In an extraordinary exchange at the start of this morning’s inquiry hearing, she explained her behaviour by saying she was “just clearing her desk”.
It emerged because one of her former colleagues at the TMO disclosed eight day books and five diaries about the project, which he had been keeping at his home, to the inquiry for the first time on Friday afternoon.
Asked whether she had handed over all of her notes, she said she had binned all of her diaries except one when she left the organisation in May 2018.
“You binned them even though you knew by that time there was already on foot a public inquiry?” asked inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
“I believe I looked at them and they were notes. Everything that was in there, I would have thought is actually documented elsewhere,” she replied.
“I think I just tidied out the desk,” she added. “I would have looked at them and thought nothing here that isn’t informal evidence. And so I got rid of them.”
She said police emptied her desk of much of its contents, but was unable to recall whether she binned the notebooks before or after this was done.
“Can you explain why there’s nothing in any of your witness statements about your record keeping and in particular your decision to destroy records relating to the project that you’ve had in your possession?” Mr Millett asked.
“There was nothing underhand about it – I was clearing my desk. I looked and decided that everything that was in there… was of little value,” she replied.
“Did you ever inform the Metropolitan Police that you had destroyed documents which were relevant to their investigation?” asked Mr Millett.
“No, I didn’t, because it’s not occurred to me. Today is the first time that I’ve ever really had a conversation about it,” she said. “They weren’t destroyed. I didn’t rip pages out of them… So it wasn’t a conscious ‘I’m hiding anything’ decision. It was, ‘I’m clearing my desk’.”
“Well, they were destroyed, you binned them,” said Mr Millett.
“I put them in the bin, yes,” replied Ms Williams.
Earlier, Mr Millett had revealed that the inquiry received personal notes and diaries from Peter Maddison, director of assets and regeneration at KCTMO, on Friday aftenoon, covering a period from January 2013 to May 2017 and relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.
He had previously kept them in his home and had not mentioned them to the police, the inquiry or his solicitors.
The inquiry team read them over the weekend and, Mr Millett said, they contain “material of the upmost relevance” to the inquiry.
There will be a pause in the evidence this week so they can be disclosed and read by lawyers acting for the various core parties in the inquiry, including bereaved and survivors.
Grenfell United, the bereaved families and survivors group, said the news was “devastating” and called for the police to investigate the matter.
Following this revelation, Ms Williams gave evidence about a number of issues, including an email she sent in November 2014 asking for assurances about the fire safety of the cladding.
She wrote to Simon Lawrence, project manager at contractor Rydon: “I am just writing to get clarification on the fire retardance of the new cladding – I just had a Lacknall [sic] moment [a reference to a 2009 fire in Lakanal House, south London].”
She never received a reply and did not chase for a response – but claimed today that she spoke to Mr Lawrence verbally to seek assurances.
She said she had been alerted to the issues arising from Lakanal House from internal training given by the council, and through conversations with a former colleague who had worked on the refurbishment.
Ms Williams was also grilled about a separate claim that Mr Lawrence had given an assurance that the cladding panels were “inert” and “would not burn” at a meeting.
This claim was made by Ms Williams’ boss David Gibson. No minutes have ever been found and Mr Lawrence firmly denied saying it.
Today, Ms Williams said she clearly remembered the meeting and photocopying the minutes in which it was recorded and reading it out for Mr Gibson. But she did not reference this in her first witness statement, raising it only when she made a second statement in September last year.
“I’m bound to suggest to you that you didn’t recall this conversation in your first witness statement because you had no independent recollection about it,” said Mr Millett.
Ms Williams replied that while she was “a bit blurry” about when exactly the meeting was, she clearly recalled sitting at the table when the comment was made, and reading the minutes out in the TMO’s office.
“Are you sure your evidence isn’t an attempt to reconstruct a conversation which never happened?” asked Mr Millett.
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” said Ms Williams. “It’s disappointing and it would be particularly useful if we had that minute now, but it’s not a fabrication.”
Last week, other witnesses from the TMO admitted to having a “secret meeting” with contractor Rydon about cost-cutting before a contract was awarded.
The inquiry continues.
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. Pete 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
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". Pete Apps tells the story.
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