The latest phase of the Grenfell inquiry has seen the material supply and specification process under close scrutiny. The suppliers faced claims of “clever marketing” being used to exploit confusion within the regulatory framework and mask product shortcomings to mislead specifications
The three main companies in focus were Arconic, which made the cladding panels, and Celotex and Kingspan, which made the insulation used.
A particularly concerning revelation raised was that Kingspan’s have now confirmed that tests, carried out in 2005, and again in 2014, were “not representative of the K15 product that had been sold”. Kingspan have been heavily criticised through the Inquiry and subsequently through the National Media that, despite requests through the Inquiry made in 2019 to withdraw the test certification for the K15 product used in Grenfell, the company have only formally informed fire engineers in recent weeks that its test certification for the K15 product used at Grenfell should be withdrawn.
Arconic were also accused of having manipulated testing. In this case the accusation was that they had tested a riveted panel, rather than the cassette panel used on Grenfell – to gain a higher ‘class B’ fire rating than the ‘class E’ the cassette was rated. Internal emails from Celotex disclosed to the Inquiry also appeared to confirm that the product should not be used behind most cladding panels because it would burn.
Fingers of blame through the Inquiry and statements saw the manufacturers turning on one another with the intense competition between Kingspan and Celotex being used to drive the sales teams. The product manager for Celotex was tasked to lead a rebrand and development of a Celotex insulation product range that would enable the firm to compete against Kingspan in the market for high-rise buildings was a 23 year old Business Studies Graduate. Concerns were levelled at individuals about whether they understood the scope of the product with the Sales Manager at Celotex admitting at the time he did not realise that he did not appreciate “at the time” that the greater depth of insulation required for the Grenfell project moved outside the scope of the Celotex test evidence.
As a result of these findings, the Inquiry has been asked to give consideration to whether an urgent recommendation should be made to the government before the end of the inquiry’s second phase to review the premise of its building safety programme.