THE GRENFELL inquiry was told that the company ‘relied on’ fire tests run on a new trial product to continue selling its K15 insulation ‘after being challenged over its use’ in 2013.

Inside Housing reported on the evidence given by former Kingspan technical director Dr Malcolm Rochefort, with inquiry counsel Kate Grange questioning him over a series of new tests commissioned in 2014. These came after fire consultancy Wintech ‘threatened to blow the whistle’ to the wider construction industry ‘that the product should not be used on high rises’. This led to a series of tests, including a ‘number of failures’, before a pass in July 2014.

However, Kingspan documents showed that this was with a new ‘trial product’ using different chemicals ‘believed to have a superior fire performance’, after the company had advertised K15 as suitable for use on high rises based on a 2005 test ‘despite switching the product for one with an inferior fire performance from 2006 onwards’.

Internal emails showed that technical teams would respond to queries with ‘bespoke letters’ stating that K15 could be used on ‘specific’ high rise projects, with these letters turned around in 48 hours. Ms Grange asked Dr Rochefort whether he accepted this ‘was a deliberate and planned reliance’ on testing of a trial product ‘to support the use of a completely different product’; he said ‘I assumed, maybe wrongly, that a new product would be produced based on this blowing agent configuration’.

He also noted that he was relying on certification from the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) approving the product for use on high rises, ‘but by this stage this certificate had expired’. Ms Grange then asked if he was ‘prepared to accept’ that during his time in the role ‘Kingspan had no test evidence which related to the K15 product actually being sold to market that could support the use of that product above 18m in height?’.

Dr Rochefort responded that ‘I’m not prepared to accept that it was done knowingly… and the certification [by LABC and others] I took in good faith’. While the standard K15 product passed a test in April 2015, he had retired in 2014, and the 2014 tests were the first commissioned by Kingspan since it got the LABC certificate in 2009.

Internal emails shown to the inquiry revealed the company ‘elected to stop testing at this point’ because it believed the certificate ‘would be enough to persuade’ contractors that K15 was ‘sufficient[ly]’ safe. The reason testing resumed was because Wintech had raised concerns that the test commissioned ‘was not enough to justify’ such widespread use on high rises, particularly steel framed buildings.

The company requested a meeting with Kingspan, writing to it in October 2013 and stating that it would advise clients against using the insulation on high rises 18m and taller, and ‘make public our concerns to the industry at large’ should further test evidence not be produced. The email read: ‘This stance may not always be appreciated by our clients, nevertheless, we do take fire safety very seriously and of course have a duty of care to public safety.

‘I trust… that Kingspan will behave in a responsible manner to properly resolve the doubt over the use of K15 and not be distracted by inconsistencies [in building guidance].’

The inquiry had previously heard that Kingspan employee Philip Heath had responded to earlier Wintech concerns in an internal email by stating that the fire consultancy could ‘go f*ck themselves’ or Kingspan would ‘sue the arse of them [sic]’. Inside Housing noted that Kingspan had been ‘coming under similar pressure at the same time’ from the National House Building Council (NHBC), which resulted in the company threatening the NHBC with an injunction and legal action ‘if it made these concerns public’.

After this, Kingspan commissioned tests with the Building Research Establishment (BRE), and when one early test ‘narrowly failed’ it challenged the result, arguing that ‘it would have passed on an earlier draft’ of the test criteria, and copying its lawyer into emails with BRE. However, despite this, Dr Rochefort drafted an email to Wintech stating that this failed test ‘met the criteria for approval’ in relation to building guidance.

Asked by Ms Grange why he didn’t tell Wintech ‘it was close, the BRE didn’t think it was a pass, but we are challenging that’, he replied that ‘I could have said that… I was [just] running this past people, I don’t know if that email was ever sent’; Inside Housing pointed out that ‘no record of it being sent was shown’.

It was also revealed that Dr Rochefort’s work diary ‘had only been disclosed’ to the inquiry on 17 November ‘among a large amount of late disclosure’ by Kingspan, and it was yet to be viewed by other legal teams, with Dr Rochefort told he ‘may be recalled to answer questions about it if any emerge’.