Grenfell

HARLEY FACADES’ project manager admitted that he had not understood a warning about cavity barriers; one of the fabricators denied recommending the aluminium composite material (ACM) used; and other issues were raised during evidence hearings this week.

The inquiry resumed on 7 September, and its first day saw Rydon’s commercial manager state that the company ‘struggled’ to find cladding specialists for the refurbishment of the tower. Last week, Harley’s owner Ray Bailey said that he did not know that Celotex insulation was flammable, and accused the company of ‘misleading’ his firm.

It was then revealed that his 25 year old son – Ben Bailey - was hired to project manage the refurbishment, while he had also called for a full combustibles ban; other Harley staff continued to testify, with no technical manager said to have been in place that was qualified to advise on fire performance, and an estimating error was made about cladding costs.

Then, its former design manager revealed that emails, documents and drawings relating to the refurbishment ‘appear to have been lost forever’ after a laptop was wiped. More recently, it was revealed that ‘nobody’ at Harley ‘was designated with the responsibility of assessing the fire safety of products used’, alongside a series of revelations about lack of experience, cost issues and competence.

Most recently, Ben Bailey revealed that the insulation used was sold ‘at almost 50% discount’ for use on the tower. Building, Belfast Telegraph and BD Online all reported on the latest evidence from Mr Bailey and cladding fabricator CEP’s senior sales manager Geof Blades.

Mr Bailey admitted that he failed to understand a warning from cavity barrier manufacturer Siderise’s technical officer Chris Mort, who had sent an email that referred to ‘two distinct safety issues, only one of which was subsequently addressed’, referring to a ‘weak link for fire’ in the refurbishment plans. The warning came in 2015, with Mr Mort relating that he had spotted a gap that required protection to stop fire spreading to an external cavity.

Mr Mort’s email outlined that he ‘expected that building control officers would have noticed the omission of cavity barriers around the windows’, but it also covered fire resistance ratings for other cavity barriers on the project, with Mr Bailey stating that he believed that once a solution had been found for the ratings, the ‘weak link’ issue had been dealt with.

Asked by inquiry counsel Richard Millett if he had confused two separate issues as one, he replied ‘knowing what I know now, unfortunately yes’, with Mr Mort providing a written statement to the inquiry as well. He said that the plans should have had a design that protected the ‘weak link’ he found, and that as a supplier Siderise was ‘not obliged to provide’ general advice about fire safety and building regulations compliance.

However, he added that ‘in this instance, I did highlight the weak link I identified. […] It was a clear error and I felt I should highlight it. In my opinion Harley and/or Building Control should have picked it up’. Confusion at Harley over Studio E’s intentions for cavity barriers around windows had previously been established at the inquiry, and Mr Bailey admitted he had ‘read parts’ of Approved Document B but found it ‘confusing’.

Mr Millett raised two instances in which Mr Bailey had asked Siderise for technical advice on regulatory compliance relating to vertical firebreak locations, asking: ‘Are you able to explain how Harley, as a specialist cladding subcontractor, and you – as the project manager overseeing the installation – so lacked expertise in the placement of cavity barriers that you had to seek advice from the manufacturer?’

Mr Bailey responded that he was ‘not in a technical role’ and had been ‘double checking’, and was then asked about his supervision of subcontractors Osborne Berry, which fitted insulation and cladding. This specifically related to his written statement that said he had been ‘shocked’ to see images of the products installed in the first phase report, and he was shown an image of a Siderise horizontal cavity barrier installed ‘vertically and back-to-front’.

He admitted that this was ‘sloppy’ workmanship, and admitted that there were days when he had been unable to inspect Osborne Berry’s work, agreeing the installers had been ‘left to get on with their job unsupervised’. Asked about the training he had expected the subcontractor to give workers, he said ‘I would imagine it was [Mark Osborne] and [Grahame Berry] training their own guys’.

He was also surprised by a statement from Mr Osborne stating that his company had ‘no involvement in relation to the fitting of cavity barriers’, though it was established that the company might have used the term firebreaks. Mr Bailey had conducted informal inspections, but Mr Millett asked whether he had noticed poor workmanship, responding ‘nothing specific’, and asked whether he had not inspected what had shocked him, he said ‘I couldn’t have done’.

Mr Bailey was then questioned about the conduct of a staff member who was installing the cladding, with an April 2015 email from Rydon’s project manager Simon O’Connor relating a couple of complaints. These included one person ‘knocking on residents’ windows asking for tea’, ‘scaring animals inside flats’, showing a ‘complete lack of respect for health and safety’, and criticising the quality of Rydon’s work.

His email added that such behaviour ‘only adds fuel to the fire’ of the ‘difficult situation’ Rydon was dealing with concerning residents, and said the individual would be removed from the site permanently if there were any more incidents. Mr Bailey was asked if this gave him concerns about Osborne Berry’s ability to supervise staff and the quality of its work, and responded that this worker had been warned but that he did not think they had been removed from site.

Mr Blades meanwhile denied ‘recommending’ the use of the ACM used at Grenfell, and accepted that he knew a ‘safer, fire-retardant version’ was available. He insisted he had not recommended Reynobond ACM, but acknowledged he had ‘proposed’ its use to Studio E as an alternative to zinc, which ‘wasn’t meeting their cost parameters’.

In his witness statement, he said he ‘had not known’ that the safer version was available at the time, with CEP only having two suppliers of ACM: Alcoa, later renamed Arconic, and 3A Composites, which manufactures Alucobond. Mr Millett showed him a June 2013 email trail discussing cladding quotes with 3A Composites’ sales manager Richard Geater, and suggested the emails showed Mr Blades stating that a quote for Reynobond was cheaper that Alucobond.

Mr Millett also said that Mr Blades said that the Reynobond quote ‘was not’ for the fire retardant version, with Mr Geater suggesting that that version cost ‘considerably more’ than the Alucobond his firm made, and that Alcoa ‘won’t change their core until they are forced to due to changes in the fire regulations, else Reynobond will become too expensive’. Mr Blades, when presented with this, said he was prepared to change his witness statement but did not remember receiving the email.

CEP and Arconic had also been discussing cladding options for Grenfell in 2012, ‘pre-dating the involvement’ of either Rydon or Harley, with Mr Blades stating he and Alcoa’s UK sales manager Deborah French met Studio E’s Bruce Sounes to discuss the project, and while he had been ‘keen’ for Reynobond to be installed, he had ‘not taken a view on which one’.

CEP ‘subsequently provided’ Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation’s original contractor Leadbitter with a quote for cladding in 2013, though it only produced ACM cassettes using Reynobond for Harley, and its original quote ‘did not specify’ which version would be used. Mr Blades was also asked about emails from Ms French after reports of an ACM related fire on a Dubai high rise in May 2013.

Her email ‘sought to reassure’ Alcoa’s customers that it was able to ‘control and understand’ whether its products were being used in projects to ensure the right specification was offered. Mr Millett asked if this email had been a ‘major alarm call for CEP’, and Mr Blades admitted it ‘could have been’ but not for him personally, adding: ‘We would have relied on designers, possibly, to ensure that that product or the products that were being chosen were compliant.’

He subsequently said he had never had a discussion with Ms French about the kinds of cores in Alcoa’s ACM panels, but agreed that after this email he should ‘in hindsight’ have spoken to Studio E about ensuring they had the right cladding core for Grenfell. Mr Blades was also asked about emails where he promised Harley’s commercial manager Mark Harris a ‘very nice meal very soon, somewhere very nice’ after CEP was asked to quote for cladding on Grenfell.

He was also asked about another from Ms French, who promised Mr Harris and Mr Blades ‘lunch or dinner’ at a project milestone, and responded that he had been thanking Mr Harris for ‘giving us the opportunity to quote them’, disagreeing that Harley had done CEP a favour, but had ‘certainly given us the opportunity of the business’. Of Ms French’s email, he said ‘the three companies acted very professionally and I never got taken out to lunch by anybody’.

Concluding his evidence, Mr Blades was asked whether he would have done anything differently if he had the knowledge he now has, and he said ‘yes, I think the company would and I would as well. I think we’d have looked more deeply into the documents that were made available – the BBA [British Board of Agrement] certificate in particular, and probably enquired more as to what other products associated with the rainscreen system did and how it affected the panel’.

He had been asked by Mr Millett if he knew that Reynobond’s certificate from the BBA gave it a Class 0 rating for flame spread and heat release, and responded that he had not know this.