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Grenfell contractors accused of knowing cladding would fail

29 January 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

The contractors and architects involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower knew that the cladding the building was fitted with would fail in the event of a fire.

That’s according to representations made on the second day of phase 2 of the Inquiry, which heard from Celotex, which made and sold the RS5000 and FR5000 insulation used in the building’s cladding system.

In his opening statement for Celotex, Craig Orr QC, counsel for Celotex, revealed email correspondence between staff at architect Studio E, fire safety firm Exova, subcontractor Harley Façades, and main contractor Rydon.

Referring to the emails, Orr said: “Each of Harley, Studio E, Exova and Rydon was openly acknowledging in these emails that the cladding would fail in the event of a fire with external flaming. This is tragically what happened on the night of 14 June 2017.”

"No point in fire stopping"

The exchange arose out of a debate with building control about whether cavity barriers or firestops were required in the rainscreen cavity. An internal email on 27 March 2015 from Daniel Anketell-Jones, an engineer at Harley Façades to the company’s managing director Ray Bailey, said: “There is no point in ‘fire stopping’ as we all know the ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!”

There was then an email on 31 March 2015 from Neil Crawford at Studio E to Terry Ashton at Exova, which said: “Even if we were to agree with RKBC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), it is difficult to see how a fire-stop would stay in place in the event of a fire where external flaming occurred as this would cause the zinc cladding to fail.”

Crawford replied: “Hi Terry, Thanks, this was my point as well – metal cladding always burns and falls off.”

An internal email from Tony Pearson at Exova to Ashton said: “We would not rule out that fire could enter the cavity if there is flaming through the windows. However, if significant flames are ejected from the windows, this would lead to a failure of the cladding system.”

A final email from Crawford was sent to Simon Lawrence at Rydon on 31 March making him aware of Exova’s response. The email said: “Seems like no-one really agrees with John [that is John Hoban, the building inspector] so let’s see what he comes back with after my last email.”

Orr said: “This email exchange is directly relevant to the claim made by Harley yesterday that they had no idea and no reason to believe that the principal materials used in the cladding façade would behave as they did in the event of a fire. The email exchange suggests the contrary.”

Celotex clear "product was combustible"

As far as its own position was concerned, Orr asserted that Celotex made it clear that its product was combustible. Referring to the fact that FR5000 had been certified by the British Board of Agrément (BBA), Orr said: “The certificate on its front page describes the panel as aluminium polyethylene composite, which is a clear signal to any professional that the core is plastic and combustible.

“The certificate is also explicit that the performances which it certifies may not be achieved by all colours and that in any event it does not apply to the fire resistance of a wall, a complete cladding system incorporating the product, which must be determined by further tests.”

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