AT THE inquiry into the 2017 fire last week,  representatives of cladding subcontractor Osborne Berry agreed its work on the project was ‘shocking’ and ‘unacceptable’, while another denied having a ‘lack of respect’ for residents.

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. After that, 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.

More recently, Ben Bailey revealed that the insulation used was sold ‘at almost 50% discount’ for use on the tower, and then further evidence was given by Mr Bailey and cladding fabricator CEP’s senior sales manager Geof Blades. Later last month, Harley’s 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.

Finally, at the end of last month it was revealed that the insulation used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was ‘originally suggested’ to meet an ‘aspirational’ thermal efficiency target, but without any ‘basic checks’ regarding fire performance.

BD Online and Your Local Guardian reported on the testimony from Osborne Berry’s Mark Osborne and Grahame Berry at the inquiry, in which Mr Osborne agreed that some of the fire protection measures – namely the cavity barriers – were fitted in ‘shocking’ and ‘unacceptable’ ways, including being placed ‘back-to-front and [the] wrong way round’.

Mr Osborne was shown images of the poorly fitted barriers, and ‘could not explain’ how this had happened, adding that ‘it’s bugged me for a long time, the question about that. I looked at these things in various locations many, many times and I never saw anything like that’. Asked by inquiry counsel Kate Grange to explain why the error wasn’t picked up, he said ‘I can’t, I’m afraid’.

When she asked what he would have done if he’d seen the barrier in the image, he said ‘it would have been pulled out and redone’, and he added that he had never seen examples of barriers fitted like this on the site, stating that ‘we never had this problem at all’. Ms Grange then said that Arup’s Barbara Lane had ‘not found any correctly installed vertical fire barriers’ on site, with the units all ‘intended for horizontal installation’ by the manufacturer.

He responded that he was ‘shocked’ that the correct barriers weren’t installed, adding that ‘as far as I’m aware, they were on the tower, because I fitted some of them myself’. He was then shown images from the Arup report that showed poorly fitted barriers ‘elsewhere that left gaps where smoke or flames could pass through’, and on being asked if he thought these were shocking he agreed; asked if it was ‘unacceptable’, he responded that ‘it certainly was’.

Ms Grange then asked if he thought it was right to say such work ‘had not been carried out with reasonable skill and care’, to which Mr Osborne responded ‘that’s correct’, and he admitted he had not read the barrier manufacturers’ instructions for installation, but had installed barriers on other jobs, stating when shown the documents that ‘what I’m seeing here is no different to what was done on the tower’.

He also said he did not look at manufacturers’ recommendations for installing insulation on the tower, nor the ACM, and when asked if he was aware that fixings used for the ACM on the tower were not the same as recommended, he answered ‘no’. Mr Osborne insisted that his workforce had ‘most definitely’ been given guidance on fitting cavity barriers properly, and used ‘mostly’ self employed fitters.

Mr Osborne had shown them ‘what to do by working side-by-side with them on site’, though ‘it was not possible to do this with everyone’ as there were eight different mast climbers, or two for each of the building’s four sides. He said: ‘Some fitters would get checked more than others but some fitters wouldn’t get checked for a week on because we knew them and trusted them, basically. The ones I checked most of all were the fitters we had from agencies. I wasn’t sure of them, basically.’

For him, the biggest difficulty in checking barriers were correctly installed was that insulation was placed over them ‘soon after’ they were fitted to prevent them blowing away, and he added that ‘you couldn’t see everything on the building before it was covered, basically. It would even be hard for building control or the clerk of works to see some of these things’.

He admitted he had had no formal training in cladding nor in fire safety, and had ‘worked his way up’ through the industry from an apprenticeship as a fitter in the 1970s. On complaints relating to ‘unacceptable behaviour’ from a member of the cladding installation team, cited in emails from Rydon’s project manager Simon O’Connor, the inquiry heard that the allegations made related to Mr Berry, with Mr Osborne asked about Mr Berry and the allegations and complaints made.

Mr Osborne said that he had known Mr Berry for 35 years ‘and did not believe he would behave in the way’ described, and one specific health and safety allegation was that fixers were climbing between mast climbers on site. Mr Osborne said he had spoken to two workers ‘about such behaviour’, but doubted Mr Berry would have done so, as ‘he doesn’t like heights to do that sort of thing’.

In his own evidence, Mr Berry – accused by Mr O’Connor of having a ‘complete lack of respect for health and safety’ – denied the allegations, and told the inquiry he was ‘not stupid enough’ to have done any of what he had been accused of. He had been accused by Mr O’Connor and residents of also having been ‘knocking on windows asking for tea’ and banging on people’s windows to scare animals inside flats’, alongside ‘feeding the wrong information to residents’.

Another allegation was that he had been ‘dropping material on public footpaths’, and in response Mr Berry said ‘I don’t recall anything like that happening at all, but people are human beings, there can be an incident where somebody’s dropped a screw or nut but not me personally or anything like that, and there was never anything major recorded on stuff like that’.

He added in turn that ‘I’m not stupid enough to climb across a climber when its 10 or 12 or 15 floors up in the air, I wouldn’t be that stupid or naive to do that, to be fair, no’; and when asked to explain where the allegations may have come from, he said ‘I can’t, no’. The inquiry heard that Mr O’Connor’s email, to Harley Facades’ project manager Ben Bailey, was later responded to by Ray Bailey, Harley’s owner, who told Mr Berry he ‘didn’t believe’ the reports.

Mr Bailey’s email to Mr Berry said that ‘I don’t believe that this is true but we need to be squeaky clean and ultra professional. We have got the job under control and we do not want to give the residents any opportunity to complain’. In his reply to Mr Bailey, Mr Berry wrote: ‘We have not been any of these things at all, I don’t understand any of this stuff we have been accused of. If there is a problem Rydons allways (sic) come and speak to us. We are always polite and professional to all people.’

Finally, further complaints of bad workmanship were alleged in relation to SD Plastering who had worked on internal windows, with company director Mark Dixon shown complaints of trims ‘that were not level, others that were not straight, and excess material left around another in the living room’. An email from Rydon’s Chris Holt to Mr Dixon complained that ‘this is not good workmanship and I have been told by the tenant that the operative have tried to rush though the job and therefore we have this result’.

In response, Mr Dixon claimed at the inquiry that the flat in question was ‘completely different’ to others in the block, with fitters having had to alter working methods and ‘think on their feet’.