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Warning of ‘weak point for fire’ missed by cladding sub-contractor at Grenfell Tower

An email warning of a “weak point for fire” at the top of the planned new windows on Grenfell Tower did not result in the designs being amended to include fire barriers as required by guidance, the inquiry heard today.

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Ben Bailey, former Grenfell project manager, gave evidence today (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Ben Bailey, former Grenfell project manager, gave evidence today (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
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An email warning of a “weak point for fire” at the top of windows on Grenfell Tower did not result in the amendment of designs to include fire barriers as required by guidance, the inquiry heard today #UKhousing

Warning of “weak point for fire” missed by cladding sub-contractor at Grenfell Tower #UKhousing

Ben Bailey – the son of the Ray Bailey who owned cladding sub-contractor Harley Facades and was named project manager on the job aged just 25 – was today grilled over an email from Siderise, the supplier of cavity barriers for the tower which identified a flaw in the designs.

This was not acted on and the tower was not fitted with cavity barriers around windows as required by building guidance.

The Grenfell Inquiry also heard:

  • Mr Bailey’s inspection of the installation of barriers installed by another sub-contractor was “ad-hoc” and missed an entire face of the building. He was “shocked” by “sloppy” workmanship discovered after the fire, including horizontal barriers installed vertically.
  • He said he “did not recall” whether or not he had offered assurances to building control about the compliance of the cladding system and remembered little of their inspections.
  • Harley paid more than £200,000 less than quoted for the cladding panels and Mr Bailey was asked whether they had sought to “make a turn” on this by adding the difference to their profits.
  • A workman installing the cladding was disciplined after deliberately annoying residents by knocking on windows asking for tea, scaring pets and dropping materials from the walls of the tower to the pathways below.

In March 2015, the design team working on the refurbishment got into a dispute with building control officers at Kensington and Chelsea Council over whether cavity barriers or fire stopping was required for the cladding system.

Cavity barriers provide only 30 minutes of fire resistance and are used in external walls, while fire stopping prevents the spread of flame for two hours and is required inside a building.

As the debate progressed, Mr Bailey emailed Siderise, which provided the cavity barriers, asking them to provide designs and a quote to meet the two-hour requirement if it proved necessary.

To do this, Chris Mort, technical development director at Siderise, responded “with a proposal to alleviate the issues raised”. But he added: “Also, on the second page of the attachment I have highlighted the weak link so to speak in terms of fire.”


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He marked an orange bubble around the bracket at the top of windows and wrote in capitals “WEAK LINK FOR FIRE” and suggested moving the proposed cavity barrier down to the very top of the window to combat this.

But with the building control officer eventually backing down over the two-hour requirement, nothing was done to address this identified “weak link”.

“It’s quite a serious warning isn’t it, from a manufacturer to be warning you that the design which Harley had presented offered a weak link for fire,” said Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry. “This is a serious matter is it not?”

“I read it in the context of a 120-minute fire stop and that issue was to my mind shortly afterward cleaned up,” replied Mr Bailey.

“Why did you not go back to Mr Mort and ask him what he meant,” asked Mr Millett.

“I don’t know,” said Mr Bailey.

The first phase of the inquiry found that fire spread easily out of the window of the fourth floor flat where it began and was later easily able to re-enter flats with the window sets providing little resistance to flame.

The hearing was read extracts of Mr Mort’s statement which said he was “highlighting that there was nothing to stop fire in an internal compartment moving to an external cavity”. “The window head interface with the structure shows that there is a gap. It needed some form of protection. It was a clear error and I felt I should highlight it,” he said.

Later, Mr Bailey was shown an email from June 2015, when he asked Siderise for clarity on the required position of vertical cavity barriers in the cladding system. Mr Millett asked: “Are you able to explain how Harley as a specialist sub-contractor so lacked expertise as to where those cavity barriers should be put that you had to seek advice from the manufacturer?”

“No,” replied Mr Bailey.

In the afternoon session, Mr Bailey was grilled at length about his inspection of work to install the cavity barriers carried out by Osborne Berry, the sub-contractor appointed by Harley. He said his inspections were “ad hoc” and accepted that his notes revealed he had not inspected the southern face of the tower at all.

Shown an image of an incorrectly installed cavity barrier, installed vertically when it should have been horizontal, Mr Bailey described the work as “sloppy”. He said those he inspected were installed correctly.

“Is the truth that Osborne Berry were contracted in and they were just left to get on with it without any supervision from you as project manager,” asked Mr Millett.

“I think there was an element of supervision, I was doing snagging checks,” replied Mr Bailey.

Pushed on his knowledge of relevant regulations surrounding cavity barriers, he was later asked: “Are you able to tell us how you were in a position to supervise your sub-contractors, given that you did not know whether what they put on the building was compliant?”

Mr Bailey explained that a single flat had been completed as a model and he sought to ensure this was replicated this across the tower.

The inquiry also saw emails that showed Rydon complaining about a worker’s behaviour while installing the cladding on the outside of the tower. They said he was knocking on windows and asking for tea, banging to scare pets and showing a “complete lack of respect for health and safety”.

Mr Bailey said the individual was not removed from site but was warned about his actions.

Earlier in the day, it emerged from an invoice for the cladding panels that Harley paid a little over £300,000 for the aluminium composite material cladding panels, despite quoting £525,000 for the cost.

He was asked if he was aware of any discussions within Harley to “make a turn” on the cladding or “pocket the difference”.

“I wouldn’t use the term pocketing the difference, but in a business there has to be an element of profit,” he replied.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from Geof Blades, sales director at CEP Architectural Facades, the company that bent and cut the cladding panels to shape.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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

Click here to read the full story

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