Grenfell Inquiry: LBC reviews the extraordinary evidence from cladding firm

24 July 2020, 14:23 | Updated: 9 October 2020, 15:14

Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

The Grenfell Inquiry heard evidence from the company who installed the flammable cladding. LBC's Correspondent Rachael Venables reviewed this week's evidence.

All week we've continued hearing from staff at Rydon, They were the main contractor responsible for the £8.7million refurbishment at Grenfell Tower betwen 2014 and 2016.

Contracts manager Simon Lawrence admitted the company presented altered figures while trying to pitch cheaper cladding to Kensington and Chelsea's Tennant Management Organisation, the group responsible for the running of the tower, pocketing the more than £100,000 difference.

Rydon told the TMO that they could save between £293k and £376ks if they dropped the zinc cladding they were planning to use and went for an aluminium-cored cladding instead. This we know, is highly flammable.

However, Rydon knew the ACM cladding was actually even cheaper. They'd just been quoted higher savings of between £419k and £570k.

In the end, Rydon made a profit of £126,000 by switching to a cheaper and much more dangerous type of cladding.

Rachael Venables reviewed the remarkable evidence from the Grenfell Inquiry this week
Rachael Venables reviewed the remarkable evidence from the Grenfell Inquiry this week. Picture: PA / LBC

We also learned this week Rydon representatives promised on five different occasions to hire a fire-safety specialist.

That happened during meetings in April, June, July, September and October 2014 as works were getting started.

But they never did. And they never told the client that they hadn't.

Lawrence confirmed that the absence of a fire engineer on the team meant the cladding was chosen without consulting a specialist fire safety consultant.

And he repeatedly denied knowing himself that the cheeper cladding was more dangerous He was also asked about an email he got from Claire Williams from the TMO on 12th November 2014, who asked him for clarification after having what she described as a “Lakanal moment”.

That referred to the fire in which six people died which spread across a 12-storey block in Camberwell in 2009. In that case there were numerous fire safety failings, but the inquest also found that the newly-installed cladding offered less fire resistance than the panels they replaced in a recent refurbishment.

Lawrence never replied to that email.

Contractors Rydon were giving evidence this week
Contractors Rydon were giving evidence this week. Picture: PA

Then yesterday, Simon O'Connor, the project manager for Rydon at Grenfell, told the inquiry he thought the building and cladding materials used on the renovation were not a fire risk.

Materials such as wood, paper, and wheelie bins were considered as potential sources of fuel in a fire risk assessment completed in February 2015. But Rydon staff failed to mark building materials in that category, in what one member of staff described as "a tick exercise".

When pressed by inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC on whether he should have included cladding materials such as Celotex insulation and aluminium-cored composite material panels as building materials, Mr O'Connor answered: "I wasn't aware at the time of their combustibility." He also said he did not "recall" whether he considered they could pose a fire risk at the time.

And it seems his CV, which was presented to the TMO as part of Rydon’s tender documents for the project, overstated his abilities.

The CV stated that O’Connor was “responsible for all operations on site” including “co-ordinating design and management of subcontractors”.

But O’Connor said: “No, I wouldn’t be qualified to co-ordinate design; I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Mr Millett also presented evidence showing Mr O'Connor, who left Rydon in 2015, never responded to a request to check the fire rating of the cladding despite being chased by an email marked "Urgent".

In an email from Claire Williams at Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation in April 2015, Mr O'Connor was asked to lay out which fixings would be used on the cladding system and the fire rating of the cladding and the fixings.

Eight weeks later, the same message is forwarded to Mr O'Connor again with the subject "Urgent Urgent Urgent".

The message "Simon, I think you could polish this off quickly, don't you?" was also attached.

Mr O'Connor could not explain why the inquiry could not find any response to either message.

The inquiry into the Grenfell fire continues on Monday.