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Grenfell: Ex-Kingspan employee ‘embroiled in deliberate deceit’

25 November 2020
Ivor Meredith

A former employee of Kingspan became “embroiled in a deliberate and calculated deceit” over the suitability of the firm’s K15 phenolic insulation for use on high-rise buildings, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

Giving evidence for a second day, former technical manager Ivor Meredith was asked about claims he made during an appeal against his dismissal for gross misconduct. Meredith, who admitted to having a drug problem during his time at Kingspan between 1999 and 2015, was suspended in August 2015 for falling asleep on duty and driving a company car against management instruction. His appeal hearing was in September.

In an August 2015 disciplinary meeting, Meredith said he was having a “tricky time” because he was dealing with a lot of enquiries from construction firms about K15’s suitability for high-rise buildings and was being warned that “unless you provided evidence [that it was suitable] we needed to pull it off the wall”.

Meredith told the hearing: “So we would then approach with the letters of comfort, we would go out and find engineers and fire consultants that would badge it, we would collate any fire performance information on the ancillary products and try and bring together a position, and we would pay external consultants, BRE, Exova, whatever.

“That was our strategy there…But, yeah, ultimately we didn’t want anyone that had bought the Kingspan product to have had to remove it, because they would never buy it again.”

Meredith later attended a minuted meeting appealing his dismissal with Kingspan managing director Richard Burnley and human resources adviser Elaine Gale on 3 September.

Meredith said in his witness statement prior to the hearing that he was “not confident” of the accuracy of this as it was a “highly emotional time” and he was operating with minimal sleep and under extreme stress.

During the meeting, Meredith admitted he was “physically in a mess” and was surprised nobody at Kingspan thought his “lifestyle” had taken a turn for the worse in the 18 months prior to the meeting.

Gale said to Meredith that she understood that he had been “fairly critical in terms of Kingspan’s product being approved, in terms of fire safety”.

In the meeting, Meredith replied: “Yes I would say that I have been put in a situation where I have had to maintain performance that perhaps our products don’t deserve. I have the ability to show that our products can be used in areas where you would normally require material which would be non-combustible; from a critical lifesaver perspective.”

Meredith said he had performed tests on the K15 Kooltherm insulation product in 2005, after which Kingspan changed the technology of the phenolic foam used in their manufacture but that the tests weren’t initially repeated.

The meeting minutes recorded Meredith as saying: “We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to that the product still said what it did not [sic] the tin. Although I bucked at that point and said to my manager, at the time, that we are stretching the truth here and what we are going into an area…where we cannot support the performance of the product.

“I wasn’t the senior person there, we produced documentation and we inferred to the industry that our product could do something that potentially it couldn’t.”

During the Inquiry hearing, Kate Grange QC asked Meredith who the consultant was who had “outed” Kingspan. Meredith said he thought it could have been Wintech but couldn’t recollect. He also couldn’t recall which manager he had complained to although he thought it could have been his superiors Philip Heath or Tony Millichap.

Grange asked: “It’s right, isn’t it, that this was a deliberate and calculated deceit by Kingspan in which you had become embroiled?”

Meredith replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”

Grange said: “And it was part of an overarching strategy to achieve the best possible sales of the product by every means available; that’s right, isn’t it?”

Meredith said: “And that’s the strategy adopted for all the products, really. That is that everything that can possibly be done is done to achieve sales.”

Later on in the appeal meeting minutes, Meredith was recorded as saying: “It was on my shoulders to make all of the decisions, and if anything I kept our heads above water during that time.”

Grange asked if this referred to the “battering” Meredith was getting when it came to questions from the industry about K15’s suitability for high-rise applications. Meredith confirmed that it was.

Meredith said that once he and his colleagues started getting enquiries about K15, he made it his team’s responsibility to track the projects where it was being used and they compiled an Excel document which listed 230 high-rise buildings, recording what information had been sent, where the cladding was, the details of the build-up, who the contractor was, if Kingspan had been able to resolve the issue, and which fire engineer was used.

In its opening statement, given at the start of module 2 of phase 2 of the Inquiry, Kingspan, which has denied any wrongdoing, said: “Although Kingspan Insulation had no knowledge until after the tragedy that any of its insulation had been used in the refurbishment of the façade of Grenfell Tower, it’s now clear that a limited amount of K15 phenolic insulation product was used during the refurbishment, when there were gaps in the availability of the specified insulation, Celotex RS5000 PIR.

“It’s also now clear that another of its insulation products, TP10, was used in some window reveals. The company has looked in detail at its processes and procedures and has identified some important process shortcomings, particularly in relation to the way that three BS 8414 tests, one undertaken in 2005 and two in 2014, were conducted and relied upon for the marketing of K15.

“However, further testing undertaken in 2015, 2016 and since the fire has supported and validated the performance claims made historically in respect of those three earlier tests. The company is confident, therefore , that at the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, these shortcomings did not affect the safety of any cladding system incorporating K15 which relied upon those three BS 8414 tests.”

The Inquiry continues.