Socialist Worker

Grenfell inquiry hear details of cost cutting and incompetence that led to tragedy

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2724

confusion, incompetence and cost cutting all were factors to this horrific tragedy

Confusion, incompetence and cost cutting all were factors to this horrific tragedy (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The project manager responsible for overseeing work on Grenfell Tower’s cladding system didn’t properly understand safety warnings, an inquiry has heard.  

Some 72 people died as a result of the fire in west London in June 2017.  

Ben Bailey, giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Tuesday, also accepted he had failed to pick up “sloppy workmanship” by subcontractors.  

Bailey, from Harley Facades, told the inquiry that he had not understood that an email had referred to two distinct safety issues.  

Chris Mort, technical officer at cavity barrier firm Siderise, had emailed in 2015. He said he had found a “gap” that needed protection to stop fire spreading from the internal compartment of Grenfell Tower to an external cavity.  

His email also referred to the fire resistance rating of other cavity barriers for the project.  

Inquiry

Inquiry barrister Richard Millett QC asked Bailey if he had confused these two separate issues and seen them as one. “Knowing what I know now, unfortunately yes,” Bailey replied.  

The inquiry previously heard of confusion at Harley Facades about project architect Studio E’s plans for cavity barriers around windows in Grenfell. These barriers are required by Approved Document B of the Building Regulations.  

The inquiry has heard that Bailey had read parts of Approved Document B but found it “confusing”.  

Phase One of the inquiry identified combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding as the main cause of the fire. It said combustible insulation materials used behind the cladding and to fill gaps in window areas “contributed to the rate and extent of vertical flame spread”.  

Millett referred to two instances where Bailey asked Siderise for technical advice on regulatory compliance regarding the location of vertical firebreaks.  

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Bailey could not explain how Harley “as a specialist cladding subcontractor” could lack such expertise.  

Bailey’s written statement to the inquiry said he was “shocked” to see photographs of the insulation installations in a 2018 report by chartered fire engineer Dr Barbara Lane.  

Bailey was shown a photograph of a Siderise horizontal cavity barrier that had been installed vertically and back-to-front. He accepted it was “sloppy”.  

Lane’s report found gaps in the cavity barriers. She said using horizontal fire barriers vertically made them “non-compliant” with building regulations as they had not been tested that way.  

Bailey accepted that the installers had at times been “left to get on with their job unsupervised”.  

Discount

On Monday the inquiry heard that Grenfell Tower might have been used as a “guinea pig” to test out newly-branded insulation material.  

Celotex sold its RS5000 foam boards to Harley with just under a 50 percent discount. The foam wasn’t in the original architects’ specification for the tower. Bailey admitted he did not check that it complied with building regulations.  

Bailey said he was not aware that RS5000 was only classified as safe to use on certain buildings. He accepted that he knew this would be “among the first times” it had been installed on a high-rise building.  

A document showed that in April 2015 Celotex had discussed with Bailey using the Grenfell refurbishment as a “case study” for the new RS5000 material.  

Bailey said it had not “crossed my mind” that Grenfell was being used as a guinea pig. He added, “There was correspondence later in the year about a case study.”  

The 47.5 percent discount from Celotex amounted to £45,803. Bailey denied that this influenced the choice of insulation for the tower.  

The inquiry also heard that some 276 square metres of Kingspan Kooltherm K15 material was used instead of the specified Celotex.  

Bailey said that Harley ordered the Kingspan product as supplier SIG couldn’t provide the Celotex in time.  

The K15 certificate said it only complied with regulations in a specifically tested build-up with cement fibre cladding, not the combustible material used on Grenfell. It also said Kingspan should be contacted if the product was being used on buildings taller than 18 metres.  

Pressure

Bailey accepted that this wasn’t done.  

Millett said the K15 panels would be delivered on 4 Julyfour working days before the Celotex ones would have arrived. He asked, “Was the delay so critical that you had to change insulation?”  

Bailey replied that the delay “can be quite significant” as “you could have teams not doing anything because there isn’t any material”.  

He said that Rydon, the main contractor, was “putting pressure on subcontractors to stick to programme”.  

Bailey said he told Rydon of the change in insulation but not architect Studio E or the client, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.  

The contract did not permit substitution without the client’s permission.  

Bailey is the son of Harley’s founder and managing director Ray Bailey. The inquiry heard that he was made project manager of the Grenfell refurbishment at the age of 25.  

Bailey said he received no training or qualifications in fire safety in construction of buildings, building regulations or codes of practice for design and installation of cladding and windows.  

The inquiry continues. 


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