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Fire safety consultant ‘ignored’ Grenfell cladding email

9 July 2020

A fire safety consultant “ignored” an email containing proposals to clad Grenfell Tower with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding because he was not specifically asked to look at it, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

Terry Ashton, a senior associate at Exova, was questioned about his involvement in the refurbishment of the building by Kate Grange QC, counsel to the Inquiry, yesterday.

Grange asked Ashton if he remembered seeing emails sent in late October 2012 by architect Studio E, detailing draft work packages for the refurbishment, sent to a number of members of the design team. Ashton was also included on the list of recipients.

Ashton said: “No, I don’t. I probably wouldn’t have looked at them if I’m honest, unless they had a fire dimension.”

Grange highlighted the fact that there were a number of items in the documents about overcladding and insulation. “That’s making clear that overcladding is definitely still a big part of this project, isn’t it?”

Ashton replied: “As I say, I didn’t look at any of these packages, if we had been asked to look at these then that would have been somewhat different…The whole tenor of the email was: ‘We are having a meeting to discuss the various workshops’; it didn’t say: ‘Would you, Exova, look at all of these work packages and give us your comments.’”

Ashton added that he would have expected to see something specific in the email “to go on”, and that Exova would not expect to look at a whole series of building packages “just because we were part of the design team”.

Grange highlighted another email dated 31 October 2012 from Adrian Jess at architect Studio E with the subject line “Stage C report” in which he attached an FTP link for the report itself. Ashton was again copied in.

But Ashton countered: “But we weren’t the primary recipients of that, were we? We were just copied in. And that happens a lot on projects, you get copied in. It’s a sort of scattergun approach.”

Asked if he looked at the stage C report, he replied: “No, I didn’t. I didn’t see that I needed to.”

He added: “If I can broaden this out, we don’t routinely look at RIBA stage C or D reports unless we’re specifically asked to do so. I mean, on a current project I was specifically asked to look at a section of a stage 3, which is the same as stage C, report which had fire safety implications and the architect sent me an extract from the stage C report which enabled me to comment on that.

“Now, to just send me a link to an FTP site without any instruction as to what I should do with it, then I would ignore it, which is what I did.”

Ashton is due to give further evidence to the Inquiry at a hearing scheduled for today (9 July).

Comments

I think the headline is a bit sensationalist isn’t it? It tries to make it sound like the fire consultant ignored something sent to him, but in reality he didn’t read a report he was copied in on, not specifically sent or asked to comment on. If we expect every consultant to read every document just in case there’s something they need to comment on then expect fees to go through the roof! The consultant is right there is a scattergun approach – just copy everybody into everything just in case. What happened to leadership and management of the design team? Why wasn’t the fire consultant asked to review relevant parts of the design from a fire perspective? These are the sort of questions that CIOB should be asking and highlighting the lack of professional leadership of projects like this.

John Youle, 9 July 2020

Hi All,
When a mail is sent out to an individual,that’s fine,you expect him to action it,that’s good,if it is really important,he must acknowledge receipt of the ‘e’-mail,in other words he has received the mail,and he has read it,and should be followed by a reply as to what action he will be taking,The ‘e’-mail can be CC to a number of other members.
If the ‘e’-mail goes out as a casual mail,the important recipient not even listed as no 1,that mail will probably not be read,and not action-ed upon.
To try and hide behind the fact that an ‘e’-mail was sent,not good enough,as the urgency attached to the ‘e’-mail did not surface.Thanks

Paul Persson, 9 July 2020

I couldn’t agree more with both John Youle and Paul Persson. The headline is definitely inflammatory and not a reasonable reflection of the dialogue in the article. From the limited transcript it could even be concluded that the inquiry is focused on casting blame; rather than trying to ascertain the absolute facts, establish a rational assessment and define a productive way forward. Also the article makes no reference to the communication protocols employed by the design team. Were established working practices in place that clearly set out what parties should react to as instructive (i.e. “must act”) documents and what were advisory (i.e. for information only) communications. We have all been subject to the “scattergun” email approach and all too often it was a backside covering reasoning that initiated it. Dumping something on to FTP sites and assuming that you have effectively communicated is the worst example, which is totally unacceptable. Equally, this may not be the case , but a some more deeply researched reportage would be appreciated.

John Hudson, 9 July 2020

I agree with John Youle..As an Asbestos Consultant I get copied in to many project e mails..but luckily for me..most of my clients only include me in ones that are relevant and that I would read and action…..Many of us were wondering how this sort of decision making could happen..in this day and age..but it does when any team is not lead properly…….Im presuming Fire resistant Asbestos panels were removed in the past..and replaced with substandard (Now we Know) materials…..terrible tragedy

Dave Taylor, 9 July 2020

Have to say there is another perspective. It should be expected that a professional consultant should raise issues that, in their professional capacity, they foresee as setting potential difficulties down the road. A professional should not keep quiet, even if involved by copy, if there are in their opinion serious questions arising concerning fire safety matters. A matter of professional conduct ? It’s nothing, no time at all, to say “You haven’t asked me about XXX but I think it’s my duty to advise and alert you that you should consider the fire risks that could apply. I can of course evaluate within the preliminary fire safety strategy if requested by you, and can make appropriate recommendations.” Surely?

Michael Wood, 10 July 2020

I agree entirely with Michael Woods’ sentiments.

In 2010 I was appointed as one of the two expert witnesses for the Families of the Deceased at the Lakanal Inquest in 2013 and was responsible for the Late Submission being made in 2013. This arose because the refurbishment reduced a one hour Section 20 building to having a fire resistance of LESS than 5 minutes. The coroner Justice Frances Kirkham rejected our Late Submission arguments and directed the jury that, “The requirement for the panels was that they be Class 0 but not fire resistant.” (para 18 of her letter of 4 April 2013 https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/elections-and-council/lakanal-house-coroner-inquest)

In the refurbishment of Marie Curie House, the sister block to Lakanal House the London Borough of Southwark followed the directions to the jury to the letter in specifying the replacement panels. Why wouldn’t they follow the directions of a judge?

Then on 14 June 2017 came Grenfell. Four days later, on Sunday 18 June 2017 the Chancellor Philip Hammond MP appeared live on the Andrew Marr Show. He said the ACM panels did not comply with AD B B4(1).

At no time between the end of the Lakanal Inquest and the Grenfell fire were any changes ever made to B4(1) or the Guidance. Everyone referred to Diagram 40 and Class 0 cladding or European “Class B-s3,d2” or better.

The change came a year ago in July 2019 when B4 was revised to require, European “Class A2-s1,d0”.

When Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report was published last Autumn, it led Southwark to issue notices in November 2019 that the new spandrel panels installed after the inquest will have to be removed. Further checks with the council revealed that the new spandrel panels on Lakanal House would also have to be removed, although they was at the planning stage. These notices have been put in abeyance.

What this means is two judges chairing major inquiries have arrived at two totally opposing decisions in four years.

They can’t both be right, can they?

The RICS has published Form EWS, which sellers are advised to get a Fire Engineer to sign before contracts are signed. As the Fire Engineers PII providers are saying their PII won’t cover this, no one has signed. This has resulted in people paying mortgages for £500k flats finding they are worthless.

This has resulted in thousands of flats remaining unsold and people being driven to bankruptcy by the cost of “Waking Watches” through no fault of their own.

Sam Webb
http://www.towerblocksuk.com and http://www.ledburyestate.com

Sam Webb, 11 July 2020

I agree with Michael Wood that a professional consultant should flag up any relevant issues that the client can then take a view on to decide if they want to commission an assessment/review etc. But that doesn’t overcome the problem with the email avalanche that is now common in most working situations. I certainly open my inbox on many Monday mornings and find dozens of emails that I have been copied in on with all sorts of attachments and reports concerning projects I am working on. I usually quickly scan the email and then decide if I am going to read the attached report or not. If I deem it to be a general for information only document I may open and quickly scan it or I may simply save it to the project file. I don’t think that is an unusual approach. Obviously, if I am asked to read a report and comment or I think that it might include information that is specifically relevant to me then that is a different matter.

Gerry Ritchie, 11 July 2020