The Grenfell Tower Inquiry today heard dramatic and hard-hitting submissions on behalf of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The opening of Module 2 begins an exploration of the roles of the major materials used on Grenfell Tower and the role of manufacturers and testing regulators.
Stephanie Barwise QC, instructed by Bindmans and two other firms, representing over 300 of the bereaved, survivors and residents (BRs) opened with an explosive statement setting out widespread failures by multinational manufacturers including Arconic, Kingspan and Celotex/St Gobain. The opening can be found here and is detailed and wide-ranging in its analysis. The content of the opening will be examined in detail over the coming months, but key points in relation to the roles of three major manufacturers:
- Kingspan made some of the insulation used on Grenfell Tower
- Kingspan had a “seminally causative role” and “set the precedent” that combustible insulation could be used on high rise buildings.
- Internal emails about its own testing refer to it as a “complete spin” and “a bit of a cheat”.
- Kingspan’s dealings with the BBA, which provides respected certification for construction products, “reflect a complete lack of candour on Kingspan’s part”.
- Despite widespread concerns about Kingspan’s product, she said Kingspan’s “unrepentant arrogance is truly chilling”.
- The majority of the insulation on Grenfell Tower was a Celotex product, RS5000. Celotex targeted the work at Grenfell: Celotex’s internal email exchange in November 2014 makes clear that Grenfell was Celotex’s “number one must win bid”.
- Celotex advertised the insulation as “acceptable for use on buildings above 18m”. “Celotex cannot hide from the fact that its intention was to mislead”
- This passed a large-scale test in 2014, however, the test was unrealistic and used hidden magnesium-oxide boards to “fortify” the cavity barriers. These unrealistic construction materials were used to trick the test as they “stopped the flames dead in their tracks”.
- Celotex obtained a misleading report from the BRE which “concealed the way in which the test had been distorted”
- Arconic is the multinational company which made the flammable cladding panels used on the external wall of Grenfell Tower. The firm held a meeting in Luton in 2006 where it recognised the need to obtain a BBA certificate for its cladding panels to “capture the public sector of the market” for cladding.
- Arconic was monitoring large cladding fires in France, Australia and the Middle East and knew that “all polyethylene composites react the same way”. The firm was aware of how flammable the ACM cladding was, yet no warning was given to the team refurbishing Grenfell.
- The firm obtained this certificate in 2008, but while it purported to cover the polyethylene-cored material used on Grenfell, it was based on testing which covered another and different fire-retardant core only.
- Arconic obtained a certificate saying the product had a ‘Euroclass B’ rating for fire but hid another test from the BBA in which the product had obtained an E, after the test had to be stopped due to its high flammability.
- Internal emails in Arconic when asked about the discrepancies in this testing in 2010, said “It’s hard to make a note about this…..because we are not clean.”
One would expect Arconic would want to answer these serious concerns about its conduct.
Today the Inquiry was told Arconic witnesses based in France and Germany are currently refusing to appear before the Inquiry, due to legislation known as the ‘French blocking statute’ which prohibits the revelation of commercial matters in foreign courts.
Counsel to the Inquiry pointed out there was “a very low probability” of any of the witnesses being prosecuted for breaches of this and that their non-appearance would damage their reputation among the public and the markets.
The victims of Grenfell Tower are shocked that despite the death of 72, and the fact that 450 high rise buildings in the UK were fitted with ACM, Arconic are not seeking to answer these important issues.