The senior fire engineer who produced the fire strategies for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was asked if his failure to raise questions about the cladding amounted to an “abdication of responsibility” at the inquiry yesterday.
Terry Ashton, a senior fire engineer for consultancy firm Exova published two editions of an outline fire safety strategy for the project in October 2012 and 2013.
In both he made no reference to the plans to clad the building and advised that the plans would have “no effect on the building in relation to external fire spread” – although he added that this would be “confirmed in a future issue of the report”.
This wording was repeated in both the 2012 and 2013 reports, despite his knowledge that the refurbishment plans included an intention to clad the building.
He said that he was not aware of the precise plans for the cladding system and that he was waiting for the architects, Studio E, to raise it before addressing the fire safety concerns.
Kate Grange QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked him: “I’m going to put this to you directly so you have the chance to respond: would you agree that maintaining this wording without clarifying the position about the cladding and what had and hadn’t been done was an abdication of your responsibilities as the designated fire strategy consultant for the project?”
He responded: “I wouldn’t put it in those strong terms. I don’t think abdication is the right word. I mean, we can only react to what we’re being given to look at.”
It also emerged that he was sent Studio E’s design documents in October 2012, which included drawings and diagrams of the proposed cladding system, but he did not read them. He said there was “nothing asking him to look at [the designs]” in the email they were attached to.
He accepted that he was aware of plans to overclad the building, but did not pursue the architects for details but said he was waiting for the architects to raise it with him in order to offer advice.
“I was aware that there were proposals to overclad the building, but because we didn’t discuss this, I didn’t see fit to say to the design team, ‘We need to have a discussion about what you’re doing with the overcladding’,” Mr Ashton said.
“Now, maybe I should have said that, but it didn’t come from them – they didn’t say, ‘We would like to talk to you about what we’re doing with the overcladding’. I assumed that that would happen at some point in the future.”
He said he was aware that serious cladding fires had occurred worldwide, and that the use of combustible materials in cladding systems could pose a fire safety risk.
“I mean, obviously, as a fire consultancy, we were aware of a number of serious fires that had occurred worldwide because of the use of inappropriate materials on buildings, and some in the UK,” he said.
Asked directly what he had learned from his knowledge of several large cladding fires in the UAE, he said: “That combustible cladding shouldn’t be used on high-rise buildings.”
He also accepted that he was aware of a British Standard document on external wall facades that raised concerns about the way a cladding fire could spread up a building, affecting multiple floors simultaneously.
At the time Mr Ashton produced his reports, the proposed cladding system featured zinc cladding panels and combustible plastic insulation. The latter would not have been permitted under building regulations without a test.
However, Exova’s involvement in the project was reduced to answering ‘ad hoc’ queries from 2014 onwards, because the contractor that took over the work, Rydon, decided not to continue the formal appointment of the fire consultancy.
Asked about the statement in his report that the plans would have no adverse effect with regard to external fire spread, he explained that he was primarily discussing requirements regarding the roof of the building and space separation.
Ms Grange asked him: “Given… the fact that you had been told about the overcladding and had been sent some details of what that might involve, do you agree that this statement was potentially misleading for the readers of it, because they might have thought that the cladding would have no adverse effect?”
Mr Ashton replied: “In theory they might not have had any adverse effect. If we had stopped at ‘it is considered that the proposed changes will have no adverse effect on the building in relation to external fire spread’, full stop, that could be questioned, in my view.
“But we weren’t in a position to say that unequivocally, you know, that there are no implications for external fire spread, which is why we said we would confirm this by a future analysis.”
Asked why he did not at least explain the regulatory requirements for a cladding system, he said: “I think that, had we had a specific meeting to discuss those proposals, which were a fairly significant part of the design, then all of those things would have come out.
“But we never had a dialogue with them… In another project, for example, the architect or the project manager would contact us and would say, ‘We would now like to talk about how we’re going to deal with the external wall construction – or in this case the overcladding – can we have a meeting?’ That never happened.”
The inquiry continues with further cross-examination of Mr Ashton today.
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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 evidence this week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came 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.
Week 31: ‘If we cannot get out people will die’
This week saw the former residents of Grenfell Tower enter the witness box to tell of their experiences attempting to raise complaints with the council and its managing agent. Pete Apps reports.