The contracts manager for Rydon during the Grenfell Tower refurbishment described residents who raised complaints about fire safety and cladding as “vocal and aggressive” at the inquiry today.
Today, Simon Lawrence, who led the work on the tower for design and build contractor Rydon, was taken through various emails about complaints, including one where he referred to “rebel residents”.
He revealed he had been tipped off by building manager Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) that “there were several vocal residents and one of which could be extremely vocal and was quite well known by the TMO”.
Pressed by counsel for the inquiry, Richard Millett, Mr Lawrence confirmed this was a reference to Edward Daffarn – a contributor to the Grenfell Action Group blog, which famously warned of a fire before the disaster in June 2017.
Giving evidence to the inquiry, Mr Lawrence said: “I felt there were several very vocal, dare I say it aggressive, residents that in my opinion regardless of what work was being carried out would still have found a reason to complain.”
He was shown an email from Mr Daffarn in September 2014 raising concern that residents have been “given no choice or opportunity to comment on the windows or cladding that we are to receive”.
Another email, sent to London Fire Brigade, raised concern about firefighter access to the site, it said: “Please can you ensure that the fire brigade will monitor the changes on Lancaster West Estate that impact on our fire safety and could you also inform us where we should assemble in the event of a fire?”
Another complaint from Mr Daffarn related to a broken self closer on a fire door, with police evidence demonstrating it was still broken on the night of the fire. No record of any response from Mr Lawrence was found.
In another email, Mr Lawrence briefed KCTMO on options for installing ‘heating interface units’ (which controlled water to each flat from the communal boiler) inside kitchens or on hallways – a topic of particular concern for many residents.
In it he wrote: “I’ve not mentioned the need to fix through asbestos ceilings for the pipework boxing… I assume you don’t need to be questioned on this by Mr Daffarn.”
Asked if this was an attempt to hide the asbestos issue, he said: “The moment asbestos is mentioned, whether it’s safe to be left in place or not, would be another matter for Mr Daffarn to complain to the TMO.”
“If his complaint is justified, what’s wrong with that?,” asked Mr Millett.
“That’s between the TMO and Mr Daffarn,” replied Mr Lawrence.
The inquiry saw another email from resident David Collins in which he directly accused Mr Lawrence of responding to mess left by workers in his flat by saying “why should I believe anything you say anyway” and “implying that I could be making this up for my own agenda because I have an axe to grind”.
Mr Lawrence said he “did not recall the specific conversation” but said he thought it was “not correct” because “that’s not how I would act with a resident”.
The inquiry also saw minutes where Rydon acknowledged a need to “increase our levels of courtesy” and complaints made to local councillors that the firms workers were “very aggressive and threatening towards them”.
“I thought we were always courteous with the residents,” said Mr Lawrence. He left Rydon in 2015.
Later, Mr Lawrence was questioned about concerns raised in 2015 and 2016 that Rydon was not sufficiently on top of its budget or quality control of the work.
In an email on 9 May 2016, Neil Reed, a consultant for Artelia, which advised KCTMO, wrote: “This is becoming a farce. Despite all our efforts to ensure a smooth landing, I have to say I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance.”
A year earlier, in May 2015, Mr Reed had emailed Mr Lawrence to “set out our frustrations with Rydon’s performance on this project” and noted the lack of quantity surveyors and lack of responses to queries about changes.
On 22 June 2015, Mr Lawrence emailed his boss at Rydon and said: “At the moment we have a poor-performing site which is mainly but not totally caused by poor surveying and cheap incompetent subcontractors.”
He said today: “I think that’s just me having a vent.” He said he could not recall which subcontractor he was referring to.
The inquiry also heard about the decision to use highly combustible insulation to fill a gap around the new window sets installed during the refurbishment, which went against the design specification and building regulations.
In his phase one report, inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick singled out the new windows as a flaw which allowed the fire to spread out of the fourth floor kitchen where it started and ignite the cladding and noted that the “configuration and materials of the windows” gave a “disproportionately high” chance of this happening.
The new windows for the tower were insulated with Celotex TB4000 and Kingspan Thermapitch. Both are combustible and the Celotex had a fire rating of F – well below the minimum standard of A2.
The inquiry saw that non-combustible mineral wool insulation had been included in the original specification for the tower.
The windows were fitted by a subcontractor SD Plastering but the organisation was not given design any responsibilities, which meant that, as Mr Lawrence accepted, this responsibility fell to Rydon.
He said: “I think as a team we agreed that was the way forward. I don’t think there was a formal approval process.”
He added: “I don’t think we were cognisant that there were regulations relating to the window linings internally and we were doing a process we had always done at Rydon,” he said. “We thought it was an aesthetic finish product.”
Other emails seen by the inquiry show that Mr Lawrence blasting an early attempt at the window replacement carried out in a show flat as “a disaster”.
The Grenfell Tower 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
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