AT THE Grenfell inquiry, Harley Facades’ owner Ray Bailey said that he did not know that Celotex insulation was flammable, and accused the company of ‘misleading’ his firm.

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 one site manager was described internally as ‘a chancer who wants to do as little as possible’.

The inquiry was reported to resume on 7 September during August, and its first day saw Rydon’s commercial manager state that the company ‘struggled’ to find cladding specialists for the refurbishment of the tower. The Guardian has now reported on the evidence given by Mr Bailey, who said that he ‘did not know’ that the panels consisting of ACM and Celotex insulation could burn, and accused the French firm of ‘misleading’ his company. He also said Harley was not ‘ultimately’ responsible for making sure the work met building regulation, despite a letter stating terms that laid out that Harley was responsible for both design and ‘compliances’.

Mr Bailey claimed that Harley was ‘convinced’ by Celotex that its ‘combustible foam complied with building regulations’, and after having met a Celotex sales executive he had assumed the ‘new super-duper insulation products’ were safe. He added: ‘Celotex was produced by Saint Gobain, a huge multinational company. We didn’t believe for one second they would attempt to mislead us on this … they signed off on it, so as far as we were concerned the products were safe.’

In reference to cladding and fire spread, Mr Bailey said that Celotex had described its product as Class 0 ‘throughout rather than referring, more precisely, to its surface protection qualities’, which he said was ‘very misleading now looking back’. Mr Baily also had no knowledge of the ‘serious cladding fires’ in Dubai in 2015, claiming that ‘I don’t think they were widely reported at the time’, despite – as The Guardian pointed out – BBC News reporting on both fires at the time.

Inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked him whether it was ‘fair to say that as Harley was holding itself out as a specialist cladding contractor that you and your team should have been aware of the dangers with ACM panels that those fires illustrated’, to which Mr Bailey said ‘no, I don’t. The fires that happened abroad were not reported. We weren’t aware of those’.

Harley also did not ‘cross-check key concept drawings’ with the building regulations, and Mr Bailey admitted that he had last read Approved Document B (ADB) ten years ago – in turn, Harley – ‘while the Grenfell project was underway’ – had nobody on its staff with a qualification in façade engineering.

Mr Millett asked in turn if he accepted that, as a specialist subcontractor ‘responsible for the design, supply and fix’ of the façade on Grenfell, if ‘the buck stops with Harley on products and design’, with Mr Bailey replying ‘no, because there is a raft of layers with the architect, with the fire consultants, with building control, to ensure the design is compliant’.

This was pressed by Mr Millett, who asked whether Mr Bailey was saying ‘you were reliant on building control to ensure the products were compliant’, to which the latter said ‘ultimately yes… we are not statutory compliance experts. Building control are the experts on compliance’. The inquiry later heard that after an ACM cladding fire in Dubai in 2013, the ACM manufacturer for Grenfell’s panels – Arconic – ‘decided to continue marketing its own similar panels’.

The company’s UK sales director Deborah French emailed fabricators ‘who would later work on Grenfell’, in which she confirmed that ‘after the Dubai fire it would still offer both its polyethylene core product and fire retardant version’, with the former used on Grenfell. Mr Bailey was ‘shocked’, and told the inquiry that ‘they are talking about the fire and the cause […] but none of this has been fed back down to us’.

In November 2013 Harley told architects Studio E that ‘from a Harley selfish point of view our preference would be to use ACM’, Mr Bailey agreeing that ‘price and aesthetics were the dominant factor’. In April 2014 it was ‘pushing’ the Arconic product Reynobond, Harley’s commercial manager Mark Harris telling Rydon: ‘I would prefer to stick to Reynobond if poss, nothing wrong with Alucobond of course, but I’m not sure we can manage the costs so well if we go that route!!”