THE INQUIRY into the June 2017 fire heard that there was ‘no evidence’ that Rydon employees working on the refurbishment had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’.
The second phase began this year, with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for assurances that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extended. After resuming post suspension due to COVID-19, the first week saw a senior fire engineer state she ‘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 did not view it.
Earlier this month, two fire consultants said they gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents, before a reveal that Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’. Last week, 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 then admitted the company ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractors’ work. Earlier this week, he admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E, and yesterday admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM.
Most recently, he denied that he had given assurances about the ACM not burning ‘at all’, while drawings were found to have been signed off incorrectly. Construction Manager Magazine has now reported that there was ‘no evidence’ that Rydon staff working on the refurbishment had ‘responded to an email seeking clarification on cladding fire safety’ from Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).
KCTMO had asked about the fire resistance of the cladding ‘proposed’ for use on the refurbishment, and the inquiry was shown an email from KCTMO’s Claire Williams to Mr Lawrence on 12 November 2014, which copied in Philip Booth of design consultancy Artelia. In this email, Ms Williams asked for clarification after having what she described as a ‘Lakanal moment’.
Inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked Mr Lawrence ‘what connection he made, if any’ between the fire retardance of the ACM used on Grenfell and that used on Lakanal House, with Mr Lawrence stating ‘only the fact that Lakanal House had a fire, no more connection than that’. He also noted that he regarded the email as ‘specifically relating’ to glass reinforced concrete (GRC) cladding used on the bottom section of the tower, and not cladding over the whole tower.
This was because there had been ‘conversations’ about KCTMO’s concerns relating to the ‘robustness’ of cladding on the lower floors ‘and the risk of external fire’ from bins. Mr Millett asked in turn: ‘How do you get from the email that her concern arising from her “Lakanal moment” related only to the fire retardance of the cladding on the lower parts of the building?’
Mr Lawrence said this was because her email referenced GRC products that ‘were only used on the bottom’ of the tower around columns reaching 6m, and added that the email ‘specifically says GRC products’. Mr Millett said that it ‘also says: “Compliance standard: The Centre for Window and Cladding Technology (CWCT) Standard for systemised 10 building envelopes”’; with Mr Lawrence replying: ‘I read that as GRC products only. Maybe wrongly, but that’s how I read it and read it now.’
Mr Millett then questioned Mr Lawrence on his response, pointing out that ‘there was no record of any reply’ by Ms Williams to the question or a request for clarification, with Mr Lawrence responding: ‘I would have assumed that I would have taken that email, because I wouldn’t have answered it directly , and I would have passed that to probably Harley […] it’s not one that I could answer from a technical point of view…I would keep Claire and Philip copied in, Claire particularly.’
Countering this, Mr Millett said that ‘so you say you would have sent it to Harley’, but ‘we find no record of you passing it on to Harley’ to ask for advice – ‘can you explain that’; to which Mr Lawrence said that he could not.