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A manager at Kingspan, which manufactured the Kooltherm K15 insulation used on Grenfell Tower, has admitted that dismissing a contractor’s concerns about the material’s suitability for use in buildings above 18m with an expletive in an internal email was “totally unprofessional”.
Earlier this month, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard how Kingspan sold K15 for buildings above 18m based on a 2005 BS 8414 test, despite the fact that the formulation of the product was then changed in 2006.
In response to a query from Bowmer & Kirkland in 2008
about whether or not the new formulation was suitable for a tower called City
Park, Heath told the firm that the insulation was “classified as class 0, or
low risk” and was suitable for use in rainscreen facades. He sent details of
the 2005 test in a bid to allay Bowmer & Kirkland’s concerns.
But Bowmer & Kirkland replied: “You have not substantiated…on what basis the Kooltherm K15 is suitable for buildings over 18m?”
Heath, who is now a divisional director at the firm, forwarded this message to friends and commented: “I think Bowmer & Kirkland (multi national blue chip main contractor) are getting me confused with someone who gives a dam (sic).”
He added: “I’m trying to think of a way out of this one,
imagine a fire running up this tower! Any ideas…?”
Asked by Kate Grange QC about this response, Heath said: “I can
only apologise for the contents of this email at the time made in 2008.
“Keith [one of the friends the email was sent to] was a
dear friend of mine who was terminally ill at the time. I was just forwarding
him an email to give him a snapshot of some of the work I was working on.
“I was in a dark place with Keith being terminally ill
and addressing the issues with Bowmer & Kirkland weren’t top of my priority
list at that time…It had no reflection on how I felt, I was just trying to
lighten his load and lighten my load a bit at the time.”
Heath said it was not correct that he did not “give a damn”
about Bowmer & Kirkland’s concerns.
‘Wintech can go f’#k themselves’
After Bowmer & Kirkland indicated that it was not
satisfied with Kingspan’s response, Neil Brook from the contractor brought façade
engineer Wintech into the correspondence for its view on the matter.
On 16 October 2008, Greg Sinclair of Wintech replied: “Kingspan
keep repeating that the product has been tested to BS 8414 and therefore is
suitable for use in buildings over 18m. What they fail to say is that it is
suitable for use only in the configuration tested i.e. with cavity barriers and
a cement board outer face. It is my understanding that no material (even
Rockwool) would pass the criteria of BR 135 when tested to BS 8414 test without
He added: “The rainscreen system being installed at City
Park…is an open-jointed system (therefore external fire breakthrough into the concealed
cavity will be easier than the test sample) and is being installed without fire
barriers. As such, the installation has no resemblance to the tested sample and
therefore the test data is not relevant.”
Brook then wrote to Heath and colleagues at Kingspan and attached Sinclair’s response.
He said: “It is clear that the BRE test does not relate to the situation that we have, in that the rainscreen is significantly different and therefore I would again request that you clarify on what basis the material is suitable for use in buildings above 18m and how the Building Regulations are to be complied with.
“I would note that Bowmer & Kirkland have an overall responsibility for the design of this building and we must therefore be satisfied that what is proposed currently complies with the legislation and is not likely to provide ourselves with problems in the future…Your responses to date have failed to provide any assurances on this matter and have continued to rely on test data from a different system.”
In an internal Kingspan email following Brook’s message,
Meredith remarked that “Wintech are digging their heals (sic) in with a couple
of projects and without putting ourselves in a legal situation it’s getting
trickly what to write.”
Heath responded: “Wintech can go f’#k themselves, and if
they are not careful we’ll sue the a’#e of them (sic).”
Grange asked Heath: “Can you explain why you wrote that,
given that Wintech were giving entirely accurate advice to their customers? Why
did that warrant that response from you?”
Heath said: “It was totally unprofessional at that time
and on reflection I wouldn’t have sent that. I think it was frustration we were
going around in circles with them.”
He denied that his response reflected a “culture” within
Kingspan to such queries.
He said: “I don’t believe so. Like in any organisation,
you have your good times and your difficult times.
“We were just going around in circles with Wintech and
a bit of frustration came out there on a Friday. It was totally unprofessional
Grange asked: “Why didn’t you take Wintech’s concerns
seriously, given the potential impact on life safety? Why brush them off in
this way to your colleagues?”
Heath said: “I think we did take life safety seriously.
We provided Wintech with the data we had for them to make the appropriate
Grange then asked: “Was threatening legal action a common
way for Kingspan to respond to those who questioned the suitability of K15 for
use above 18m?”
Heath said: “No, not in my time, not at all. Like I say it
was totally unprofessional.”
Internal concerns about K15 at Kingspan
The Inquiry also heard about concerns internally at Kingspan
about K15’s suitability for use on buildings above 18m. In a May 2008 email, Heath’s
colleague Ivor Meredith said he was “worried” that Kingspan “simply do not have
the information to support the use of K15 above 18 metres with steel frames”.
He said: “I’m worried that the product will be removed from site…I think getting
this sorted should take priority over all other projects.”
Grange asked Heath: “He is absolutely clear with you at this
point that there is no evidence to support the use of K15 above 18m with steel
frames, would you agree?”
Heath said: “At this time, yes.”
Grange asked: “Would you accept that Mr Meredith repeatedly
raises in writing a lack of test evidence about the use of K15 above 18m
including in steel frame systems?”
Heath said: “I would – I think the whole team understood that
Grange asked: “What did you do about those concerns?”
Heath said: “It would have been discussed at the technical
lamination meetings as to how to move that forward.”
Grange countered: “But what did you do about it? He is
concerned that you can’t support the use of K15 on high-rise buildings
including steel frame systems. You are his manager. You are manager of the
technical department. What did you do about it?”
Heath replied: “All I did at the time was pass it up to my
superiors to determine if there was from a product development how we could
move that forward…With reflection we may have handled this different.”
The Inquiry continues.