Grenfell

THE GRENFELL inquiry saw emails from a Building Research Establishment (BRE) consultant that stated desktop studies of Kingspan insulation could be a ‘huge source of income’, and one director ‘did not recall’ following up an error on a Local Authority Building Control (LABC) certificate.

Last week, current and former BRE staff began giving evidence, with former burn hall manager Philip Clark first denying any knowledge of ‘undeclared’ fire resistant boards on a ‘critical’ test of Celotex insulation pre Grenfell, and later blaming a ‘typographical error’ that meant it took five minutes instead of ten for flames to climb up Kingspan’s K15 in a test where it was combined with high pressure laminate cladding.

The inquiry later heard that a test of K15 at BRE was ‘allowed to keep burning’ after it had failed, with the results used for 29 desktop studies by Kingspan. Ahead of this week’s hearings, the inquiry confirmed that it was ‘formulating plans to return safely’ to its in person hearings ‘at an appropriate point’, and had appointed John Mothersole as local authority assessor.

Mr Mothersole would begin following hearings in detail from the start of module three, and was said to bring ‘the necessary in-depth understanding and expertise of the operation of local authorities to assist the inquiry’, having also been ‘familiar with best practice in areas relevant to the inquiry’s terms of reference’.

Building and Construction Manager Magazine reported on evidence given by BRE’s current director of fire testing and certification Stephen Howard, namely that BRE received a ‘significant source of revenue’ via the production of desktop studies for K15. BRE consultant Tom Lennon was shown to have claimed in emails to Mr Howard that the studies could be a ‘huge source of income’ for BRE in 2015, having been commissioned to write a study after an architect sought one from Kingspan.

This was in order to clear K15 ‘as safe to use on a high-rise project’, and Mr Lennon wrote in the email: ‘We need to come to a decision as to how we proceed with this as this will potentially be a huge source of income over the coming years but could also be a huge liability if not managed properly. We have to have some very clear rules about what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for an assessment/desk top study.’

In response, Mr Howard wrote: ‘Agreed. I have both testing and assessments flying in from all directions at present. Plus each test we generate seems to spawn further openings…’

With Kingspan having secured 29 such studies on K15 as reported last week, BRE had written three, with all produced ‘on the basis’ of a failed 2014 test combining K15 with high pressure laminate cladding. Mr Clark had written a report in which the only reference to the test’s failure was on a timeline showing flames had spread above the rig after 43 minutes as ‘end of test’.

Building added that none of these ‘had identified that the test had failed’, and inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked Mr Howard ‘is the reality that Kingspan was potentially a significant source of revenue for the BRE in 2015’, to which the latter replied ‘yes, I believe so’. Another email was shown in which a fire certificate that had been produced by Herefordshire LABC had stated K15 was a material of limited combustibility and thus met the Class 0 standard.

The email was sent to BRE’s technical development director Sarah Colwell, and flagged that the LABC certificate ‘appears to give automatic acceptance for [systems] over 18m.’. She then forwarded the email to Mr Howard and colleague Debbie Smith with the certificate attached, stating: ‘We need to discuss this urgently.’

However, Mr Howard ‘could not recall’ any further discussions about the certificate, despite admitting that its claim that K15 was of limited combustibility was ‘wholly inaccurate’, adding: ‘If there was a meeting that was addressed from Sarah to myself and Debbie Smith, then, by inference, I would guess there was a meeting on that subject, but I can’t recall it.’

Mr Millett asked next if he remembered ‘being concerned that Kingspan had managed to acquire an LABC certificate that gave automatic approvals for use of Kingspan Kooltherm K15 for use over 18 metres?’. In response, Mr Howard said that ‘I think there was concern, I can imagine there would be concern, but it would depend on the basis on which that certificate was issued’.

Pressing further, Mr Millett questioned if it had occurred to Mr Howard ‘at the time when you read the certificate, to the best of your recollection…that as a result of these three tests K15 could be considered as a material of limited combustibility, was dangerously untrue?’. Mr Howard said ‘I can’t remember reading the document but if presented with that now, then, yes, it’s untrue. It’s not representative of the product’.

On that same point, Mr Millett noted that the inquiry had seen no document showing BRE ‘ever took the inaccuracy of the statement up with either LABC or Kingspan’, to which Mr Howard stated: ‘If we’d seen that documentation, I would have thought there would have been a formal response out of BRE on that point.’

Mr Millett then asked whether he remembered ‘reading the certificate at the time?’, to which Mr Howard said ‘I don’t remember reading the certificate. I probably did, but I don’t recall’. Another email from BRE’s Tony Baker in July 2013 was shown, which warned that the construction industry was getting ‘very confused’ about Kingspan’s marketing for K15.

The email to Mr Howard read: ‘I believe the test data available from [Kingspan] would be very limited and the market is starting to get very confused through clever marketing by [Kingspan].’

In response, Mr Howard said he could not remember this email and could not ‘really’ explain what Mr Baker meant by ‘clever marketing’, with Mr Millett asking ‘were you not interested to know why the market was starting to get very confused through clever marketing by Kingspan?’. Mr Howard replied: ‘Well, I think there was ongoing discussions at the time, but it depends on what that marketing was saying, and I can’t really remember the sort of ongoing discussions with Tony or others over Kingspan marketing material.

‘We are providing and supplying into a professional market. I wouldn’t question how confused architects and building control are over that material. As I said, it was only later that concerns over what was being accepted and what base [sic]… that I started to have concerns over what was being accepted on what basis.’