September 25, 2020

Grenfell Tower inquiry: Main firm ‘ignored’ an email raising cladding fears

Grenfell Tower memorial Image copyright Kirsty O’Connor

A manager at the main contractor for Grenfell Tower’s refurbishment ignored email concerns that the cladding could be combustible, the inquiry has heard.

Rydon’s Simon Lawrence received an email from the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) which ran the tower seeking clarity on whether the new cladding would resist a fire.

There is no evidence that he or anyone from Rydon replied to that email.

The inquiry’s first phase found that cladding fuelled the June 2017 fire.

Hearings in the second phase of the inquiry returned last week after a four-month break due to coronavirus.

This second phase is examining the refurbishment of the 24-storey residential block in North Kensington, west London, in which 72 people died.

The inquiry heard on Tuesday that Mr Lawrence, a contracts manager at Rydon, received an email from Claire Williams from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) responsible for the running of the tower, on 12 November 2014, seeking clarification on whether the new cladding would resist a fire.

She told Mr Lawrence, who was involved in the project between June 2014 and October 2015, that she was having a ‘Lakanal moment’ – referring to the 2009 fire in a high-rise residential block in London with cladding, which killed six people.

There is no evidence that Mr Lawrence or anyone else from Rydon responded to the email.

Image copyright Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Image caption Simon Lawrence of Rydon

Inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC asked him what he thought Ms Williams meant by a ‘Lakanal moment’.

Mr Lawrence said he knew there had been a fire at Lakanal some years ago, but did not know “the specific details” or that it was relating to fire in the context of the fire retardance of the new cladding.

He added that he believed Ms Williams’ concerns related “specifically” to the fire retardance of the cladding on the lower floors of the residential block, “but not cladding overall”.

David Gibson, another member of the TMO, said in a witness statement that he asked Mr Lawrence if there would be a ‘Lakanal type problem’, due to the danger of flames getting trapped in the gap between the external insulation and rainscreen cladding on the outside of the building.

Mr Lawrence said he did not recall Mr Gibson raising this matter with him in a meeting, when asked by Mr Millett.

Mr Gibson said Mr Lawrence assured him that the materials being used were ‘inert’ and would not burn – which Mr Lawrence denies saying.

Asked again by Mr Millet if ever he assured Mr Gibson that the materials being used were “inert”, Mr Lawrence said he would “not give technical assurances” unless he had that information from “designers or specialists”.