Grenfell

THE COMPANY was revealed to have known that its K15 insulation’s fire test – only recently withdrawn – was based on an older product for ‘four years’ before withdrawing it.

Construction Manager Magazine and Building reported on the evidence from Kingspan’s director of technical, marketing and regulatory affairs Adrian Pargeter, in which he told the inquiry that he ‘became aware’ in 2016 that the company’s BS 8414-1 fire tests held in 2005 used a formulation of the company’s K15 insulation ‘that had been produced using an old chemical process’, which was ‘subsequently altered’ in 2006.

Despite having been aware of this, and that an older version of the product was what ‘sold’ the newer version’s fire safety, Mr Pargeter said he ‘did not become concerned’ by this ‘until later’, with the news outlets pointing out that the Kingspan removed the 2005 tests from its own website in March 2019, ahead of writing to the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in October this year to ask that the 2005 test be withdrawn.

A further test was commissioned that passed in February this year, but inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked Mr Pargeter: ‘You say that it was as a result of the Grenfell Inquiry and your subsequent investigations that you became concerned, as you say, that the BS 8414 tests referenced in Kingspan’s marketing literature for K15 may have used non-standard K15 in the test, but you don’t say there that you had known that fact, at least as a basic fact, in 2016, do you?’

In response, Mr Pargeter replied that ‘I do say that elsewhere in my witness statements…I think maybe the word “concerned” is the key word there. When I became aware of it in 2016, I wasn’t concerned about it. I understood what it was, I thought I understood what it was, and I wasn’t concerned by it’. He was then asked why he ‘continued to allow’ K15 to be sold based on the 2005 test when he ‘knew it might not have represented the product being sold on the market’.

To this, Mr Pargeter responded that he was ‘advised’ by his colleague Gwyn Davis ‘that the performance in fire would not have been any different, so I didn’t have any concerns about its performance in fire, just that it was a processing change, and part of the process of development of the K15 product, so I wasn’t concerned by it. So that’s why I continued to rely on it’. He also said that Mr Davis told him in 2016 that the certificate for the product related to ‘old technology K15’.

Pressed by Mr Millett whether ‘other than removing the 2005 test report from Kingspan’s own website, did you actually do anything in 2016, or after 2016 until March 2019, to have the test report removed from circulation or withdrawn?’, Mr Pargeter said that ‘no, I didn’t’. Mr Millett then asked if he did anything in 2016 or after ‘to investigate how it could be that for 11 years, perhaps 10 years or so, up to that point’ K15 was being sold ‘which was not the same product’ as in the 2005 test.

Mr Pargeter commented: ‘No, I didn’t, because…I assumed it was common knowledge within the organisation, it had been there for a long time, and people…had understood the changes a lot better than I during the process, so I didn’t take any further steps.’

He was later asked if he was concerned post Grenfell whether customers ‘were still buying K15 on the basis of a test that was done on a different product’, and said ‘no, because I didn’t expect that there was any difference in the fire performance’. Mr Millett enquired whether he ‘actually’ sought to ‘get to the bottom of the question and have it absolutely and thoroughly answered’.

Mr Pargeter said in response: ‘We have as a team tried to do that as well, and we’re still…I’m still not convinced there is a large difference, any difference in fire performance from the 2005 product and the product that we’re producing today.’

He also took no steps to inform the market that the K15 being sold ‘was not what had been tested in 2005’, and asked why not, said: ‘Because, like I say, I wasn’t concerned. I thought the fire performance was the same, and it was extensively the same product, it was just produced, you know, in a different method.’

Mr Pargeter additionally confirmed he was aware from late 2016 that Kingspan was continuing to market K15 for use above 18m ‘on the basis’ of the 2005 test, but denied that the literature was ‘misleading’, commenting: ‘I don’t think it was misleading, certainly not deliberately. I’d checked it out, as far as I could at the time, and I was assured – reassured that the fire performance was the same.’

He also rejected Mr Millett’s assertion that not withdrawing it sooner was ‘placing the safety of occupants of buildings with K15 on them at serious risk’, stating ‘no, I don’t accept that at all’. One of his witness statements read: ‘I was not concerned about the issue at this time and did not investigate it further given that [Kingspan] had been relying on the test for years and I was not aware of any indication that the change had any impact on the product’s fire performance.’

Mr Millett asked why he only wrote to BRE this year to withdraw the test, quoting the letter from Mr Pargeter to BRE director of science Debbie Smith, which said: ‘We are writing to you with reference to a number of BS8414 test reports and corresponding classification reports featuring our product Kooltherm K15 … which Kingspan will formally be withdrawing from circulation. As you may be aware, Kingspan is currently involved as a core participant in the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry.

‘As part of our cooperation with requests for information from the inquiry we have undertaken a comprehensive review of all past and current test data which relates to K15, including BS8414 tests. Through our review we have now concluded that test carried out in 2005 and 2014 featured a product that was not sufficiently representative of the product currently sold into the marketplace.’

Asking about the use of the phrase ‘we have now concluded’, Mr Millett pointed out that the company had ‘actually reached that conclusion 19 months previously’, with Mr Pargeter responding that the company ‘wanted to wait’ until results were received from a new replica test commissioned in June 2019 – the aforementioned February 2020 test.

On why he waited nine months to write to BRE, Mr Pargeter added: ‘I think because we just – we were just so busy, we just didn’t really think about writing out to the fire engineers again until about August/September, and then we started to put this letter together then. But I can’t explain the gap. It was just busy answering questions to the inquiry, obviously, and running the business during covid time, so it was an oversight.’

Mr Millett suggested this was a ‘grave oversight’, to which Mr Pargeter disagreed, stating that ‘I don’t think it’s a grave one. I think, you know, in hindsight I’d like to have done it earlier, I can see that’. Mr Millett pressed him on withdrawing the test report, noting it had ‘been the lynchpin, the sheet anchor of your entire marketing for K15 over 18 metres for almost 15 years by this point’, and that it was of the ‘utmost urgency’ to ‘immediately write to the BRE and withdraw it’.

In response to this Mr Pargeter noted that ‘I think it – like I say, we could have done it earlier, maybe we should have done it earlier, but it didn’t change any of the outcomes’. Mr Millett later asked if he accepted that keeping the report out ‘in circulation for any longer than was reasonably necessary was an extremely risky and dangerous thing to do’; Mr Pargeter disagreed, stating: ‘No, I don’t think it’s – I don’t think it was dangerous. I think, like I say, we’ve got the confidence in the product and we don’t think there was, you know, a vast amount of difference between them.

‘So I don’t think it was dangerous in that point of view, but I think, you know, we could have done it earlier than October.’

Finally, asked if Kingspan had only withdrawn the test ‘because of the scrutiny it was about to face’ at the inquiry, Mr Pargeter said they thought it ‘prudent’, and ‘out of an abundance of caution’, with it not having been his view that the test was ‘insufficiently representative’ in terms of the post 2006 K15’s fire performance.