The second phase began with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extendedAfter resuming post COVID-19 suspensionthe first week heard a senior fire engineer ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but didn't view it. 

Two fire consultants gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents; Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’and a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.

Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence admitted it ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractor work; admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E; admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM; denied giving assurances about ACM not burning ‘at all’; and called residents ‘rebels’ and ‘persistent and aggressive’.

There was ‘no evidence’ Rydon employees had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’; and Rydon project manager Simon O’Connor admitted he ‘did not know’ about nor was 'familiar' with fire safety regulations or building regulations, and was ‘unaware’ of some responsibilities ‘as it was his first’ such jobThen, final site manager David Hughes believed Rydon had been ‘quite thorough’ in checking work quality.

Towards the end of the first period of hearings, refurbishment director Stephen Blake gave evidence, and the inquiry heard that Rydon was asked for a ‘quick and dirty’ costing for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and was ‘informally advised’ it was first choice for the job ahead of the end of procurement.

He then said he had been ‘haunted’ by the ‘lack of scrutiny’ that the cladding and window designs were given, before two of the site managers stated they had ‘assumed’ window insulation was fire resistant. Just before the inquiry paused until September, internal issues at Rydon were revealed, as site manager Daniel was described internally as ‘a chancer who wants to do as little as possible’.

The inquiry has now given an update during the pause period, stating that hearings will resume on Monday 7 September and ‘continue to be held on a limited attendance basis’, though ‘the process of risk assessment is continuous’. The Government Property Agency (GPA) ‘recently approved suggested modifications’ that will allow two witnesses to give evidence on one day when the timetable ‘requires this’, allowing the inquiry to ‘maintain progress despite the current restrictions’.

As a result, the inquiry will sit until 4:30pm on hearing days when it resumes, and it also noted that it has written to core participants with a proposal ‘for enabling’ the bereaved, survivors and residents that are core participants to attend hearings ‘as soon as it is possible’, while ‘paying particular attention to the gradual easing of restrictions and using the latest government guidelines to reconfigure the venue in a way that maximises the space available’.

The inquiry’s panel said it ‘remains committed to ensuring this happens as soon as it is safe for them to do so’, but that ‘everyone’s health and safety must be the overriding concern’, with the inquiry continuing to work with the GPA to ensure the venue ‘is safe as it can be for those who need to attend’.

However, it noted that the ‘gradual nature of the easing of restrictions’, alongside ‘variations in the current infection rate’ that have seen ‘increases in several London boroughs’, has caused the inquiry to ‘conclude that the resumption of hearings […] is not the right time to relax arrangements and compromise the two-metre distancing standard’ to enable the bereaved, survivors and residents to attend ‘in limited numbers’.

While one metre distancing is ‘permissible’, the ‘required physical presence of individuals who are in more vulnerable groups compels the inquiry to maintain two-metre distancing as per the government recommendation’. However, ‘as soon as’ it can ‘increase the number of people in attendance’, the bereaved, survivors and residents ‘will be the panel’s main concern and they will be prioritised above all other parties’.

It concluded by noting that as of 18 August, it has disclosed 20,752 documents in the first phase of the inquiry, and 165,958 documents in the second phase, for a total number of document disclosed during the inquiry so far of 186,710.