Grenfell

DURING EVIDENCE given by Harley’s director Ray Bailey, it was revealed that his 25 year old son was hired to project manage the Grenfell refurbishment, while he called for a full combustibles ban.

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 resumed 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. Yesterday, Harley’s owner Ray Bailey said that he did not know that Celotex insulation was flammable, and accused the company of ‘misleading’ his firm.

ITV News, Construction Enquirer and BBC News reported on the latest evidence from Mr Bailey, which included that he hired his 23 year old son ‘without a tender process’ and then appointed him to project manage at Grenfell at 25, which led the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to angrily criticise him for ‘shameless nepotism’.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack commented: ‘The shameless nepotism of Harley Facades in appointing its director's 25-year old son to lead on Grenfell - as only his second project manager role - is symptomatic of a system that is rotten to the core. Decades of a hands-off approach from government allowed an industry to profit from turning buildings into death traps, failing to give any proper thought to crucial points of public safety, while allowing companies to blindly rely on one another to regulate themselves.

‘If today’s evidence, as suggested, reflects the wider industry, the true scale of the building safety crisis is likely to be beyond all current comprehension. We need a root and branch overhaul that goes far beyond the government’s Fire Safety and Building Safety Bills.’

In other evidence, Mr Bailey said that Harley was ‘comfortable’ using Celotex’s insulation because it was sold as having passed fire testing for high rises and had been specified for use by Studio E, but it was revealed that Harley had delegated those fire safety checks to ‘the very person who had made it and was selling it. Mr Bailey also acknowledged his ‘confusion’ relating to the terminology of fire safety ratings, an issue that he said was ‘quite widespread’ throughout construction.

He stated: ‘We were comfortable with Celotex for two reasons. First, the understanding that “Class 0 throughout” meant it was of limited combustibility. Secondly in addition to that it had passed an BS8414 test and we sent the details of the cladding system we were using to Celotex for them to approve. We were asking Celotex “this is what we’re using, are you happy with it?” And they were.’

Inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked whether this meant that ‘you were delegating the sign-off or confirmation of the safety of this product to the very person who had made it and was selling it to you’, to which Mr Bailey replied that ‘we wanted Celotex confirmation that they were happy for us to use it’.

Mr Millett asked in turn if it was ‘not up to Harley to satisfy itself it was safe to use by making the appropriate investigations’, to which Mr Bailey responded that ‘well we made the investigations with the manufacturer. The product was specified by Studio E, Exova were their fire consultant so by the time the design was passed down to us Celotex was named. We took all proper and necessary means in our view to confirm what they had specified for us was correct.’

Celotex was also said to have targeted Grenfell as a ‘flagship’ project for its insulation, and ‘cynically exploited’ what one of its bosses called ‘the smoke of confusion’ around building regulations, with inquiry counsel Stephanie Barwise stating that the company ‘actively promoted’ its insulation despite senior executive ‘knowing it should have been recalled after safety tests’.

Mr Bailey said that using the ‘Class 0 throughout’ marketing ‘led to the belief that the material is of limited combustibility’, implying this was the case throughout the product, not the surface. Mr Millett called it ‘erroneous’ as it equates ‘limited combustibility throughout with Class 0, which would be correct, with Class 0 throughout with limited combustibility, which would be incorrect’. Mr Bailey said ‘I think this is the confusion […] it’s quite widespread throughout the industry’.

Celotex disputed this assertion, and said it promoted the insulation for use on buildings 18m or taller on a ‘rainscreen cladding system with the specific components’ used when passing a fire safety test, while the system on Grenfell ‘bore no resemblance’ to that structure. Mr Bailey also called for a ‘comprehensive ban of any kind’ of combustible material on residential buildings, blaming the Class 0 situation and confusion.

Asked if he would change anything, he said: ‘Looking back to what we knew then, certification that we had, the industry practices that were used throughout the UK, if we were faced with the same job now, I suspect, I’m pretty certain, that we would have done it exactly as we did back then.

‘I can’t think for a second that anybody in the construction team working on Grenfell or on the hundreds of other buildings that we similarly constructed across the UK, nobody would have thought for one minute that anything we were doing was unsafe. But if I could go back in time, armed with what I know now, the certification, the testing regimes, the caveats, the misinterpretation of the Building Regulations, that are not just restricted to us but the whole industry, this stuff, Reynobond, Celotex, Kingspan, none of it would be on the wall.

‘The legislation is complicated to use, it’s not very clear, and I think any form of combustible insulation or cladding should be banned immediately. I know that’s not my place to say, but if the building regs banned it, it wouldn’t be on the building. Class 0, as I sort of understand how that came into being, was some industry self – interest body created this false class and it’s clouded everybody’s judgement and belief over the past 40 years.’

Other materials used, including Styrofoam and Kingspan’s TP10 rigid insulation ‘usually sold for roofing insulation, used in the core of the sandwich panels around windows’, were ‘not compliant’, while cladding manufacturer Arconic’s tests of various configurations in 2013 ‘found they had achieved poor ratings for fire safety’, and ‘performed worse’ when shaped into “cassette” boxes, used on Grenfell.

A manager’s statement shown noted that one test ‘had to be stopped’ due to “flash-over”, so the cladding could only be rated E, but Arconic ‘did not pass the results’ to the body issuing product certificates in the UK, ‘relied on by the building industry’. The Reynobond cladding was listed as being Class B, with Mr Bailey sent this certificate in April 2014, but it ‘made no mention of the poor test results’ in the covering email, and he was ‘unaware’ of the tests.