A Kingspan director denies that the firm made a “deliberate attempt to deceive” MPs in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire by commissioning a test on a competitor product that was specifically designed to show a poor fire performance, the inquiry heard today.
The inquiry was shown a 96-page document sent from the insulation giant to the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee in 2018 in which the firm warned MPs against introducing a ban on combustible materials on high rises following the Grenfell fire.
Kingspan produced the K15 Kooltherm product found on a small proportion of the walls of the Grenfell Tower, as well as PIR plastic insulation for its window panels. Both products are considered combustible.
In its submission to the HCLG Committee, the firm said it had evidence of “three failed large-scale fire tests” using non-combustible materials produced by Kingspan’s competitors, in order to support its argument that non-combustible materials could still be dangerous when used with certain systems.
However, the inquiry heard today that these tests had been commissioned by Kingspan and were designed in a way to ensure the non-combustible insulation achieved the worst possible fire performance.
In one email sent to Kingspan employees from a cladding company that was helping to arrange the test, the latter said it would use cavity barriers in the test that “meet regs requirements but their performance is expected to be poor”.
“The way the internal corner is detailed will allow the flames to bypass the vertical cavity barriers and attack the cavity of the wing wall,” the email said.
Kingspan also carried out at least one of the tests using Vitracore G2 cladding, which is not widely used in the UK and was withdrawn by the government one month later.
There was no mention in the 96-page document sent to the HCLG Committee in 2018 of the fact that the mineral wool systems tested by Kingspan had been designed to achieve a low performance.
The emails were revealed during the evidence session of Adrian Pargeter, director of technical, marketing and internal affairs at Kingspan.
“This was a deliberate attempt to deceive [HCLG Committee chair Clive Betts] and the select committee, wasn’t it?” Richard Millett, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked Mr Pargeter.
“No, it wasn’t a deliberate attempt at all,” Mr Pargeter replied.
Mr Pargeter also disagreed with Mr Millett’s assertion that Kingspan “after Grenfell was doing its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain”.
Earlier in the day, the inquiry was shown a ‘political engagement plan’ that Kingspan drew up with a PR firm less than six weeks after the Grenfell fire occurred.
“It’s time to get our message out to the people that matter,” the strategy read, before listing a number of key targets including then housing secretary Sajid Javid and Dame Judith Hackitt, who led a review into the building regulations in the aftermath of the fire.
“Finally, there is still a discussion to be had about approaching the public inquiry. We don’t know the inquiry’s terms of reference and we don’t know if Kingspan will be asked to give evidence,” the strategy said.
The inquiry was also shown a spreadsheet listing a number of MPs contacted by Kingspan following the fire at Grenfell, including various ministers and members of the HCLG Committee.
Part of Kingspan’s lobbying effort was to show that there could be issues with the ‘linear route to compliance’, which relies on the fire rating on individual elements such as non-combustible insulation.
Mr Pargeter said Kingspan’s “bar for safety” is a BS 8414 test, which tests the system being used on a building, rather than individual parts.
The inquiry has previously heard that a BS 8414 test relied on by Kingspan to promote its K15 product prior to Grenfell was carried out on an alternative product to the one being sold to the market.
“Did you not, if that was the plan, detect a degree of irony in the approach given that for more than a decade, as you well knew by this point, Kingspan K15 had actually been sold without an applicable 8414 test?” Mr Millett asked.
“I’d agree there’s an element of irony,” said Mr Pargeter.
The inquiry has now been placed on hold until 11 January after a member of the inquiry team tested positive for COVID-19.
Update on 25.3.2021 at 4.30pm:
Following Kingspan disputing some of the questions put to Mr Pargeter he returned in March 2021 to give additional evidence. You can read a report of that session here.
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