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Grenfell insulation firm ‘masqueraded horsemeat as beef lasagne’, says Studio E associate

Neil crawford
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Studio E’s Grenfell Tower project lead has hit out at a firm that made the insulation used on Grenfell Tower for its misleading sales tactics, accusing the firm of ‘masquerading horsemeat as beef lasagne’

Neil Crawford, who managed the refurbishment project from July 2014, told the inquiry yesterday (9 March) that Celotex’s sales datasheet for its RS5000 insulation product was as misleading as the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

The sales literature for the product said it was ‘acceptable for use in buildings above 18m in height’ and had ‘Class 0 fire performance throughout’.

The insulation, together with Reynobond PE cladding panels, made up the external cladding system, which the probe has already found was a key factor in the fire’s rapid spread across the west London tower.

Previously, Stephanie Barwise, counsel for the victims, accused Celotex of exploiting the ’smoke of confusion’ surrounding building regulations and actively promoting the RS5000 product for use despite knowing it should have been recalled after safety tests.

Crawford said: ‘To be blunt about it, we’ve obviously seen the recent emails in terms of internal correspondence within Celotex and clearly they sought to deceive based on the understanding an average architect would have with the way they worded this document.

‘It’s deliberately misleading. It’s masquerading horse meat as beef lasagne and people bought it. All I can say is the totality of what was written there made me understand that this product was compliant [with the regs] in that use.’

Crawford told the inquiry he was sent the Celotex RS5000 datasheet by subcontractor Harley Facades, along with a question about whether fire barriers would be needed if the insulation was class 0.

It’s deliberately misleading. It’s masquerading horse meat as beef lasagne and people bought it

He forwarded this query onto Evoxa, who he regarded as the ’authority on all things fire-related’, which, according to Crawford, was ’fairly emphatic’ that it was appropriate for use. 

In yesterday’s evidence, Crawford was questioned in detail over the practice’s interactions with Evoxa, the fire consultant on the Grenfell Tower project.

Studio E had worked with the fire engineers on the neighbouring Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC) project, where Studio E had complained that Exova had failed to commit to fire strategies for the buildings. 

The inquiry also heard that the original contractor for the Grenfell project, Leadbitter, had also complained about Exova’s ‘casual’ response to fire safety concerns raised by the Grenfell Action Group (GAG).

In 2013, a report produced by Exova which said the proposed changes to Grenfell would have no adverse effect on the building in relation to external fire spread, but ’this will be confirmed by an analysis in a future issue of this report’.

However, this report did not cover the addition of external cladding on to the tower, and was never followed up. 

Richard Millett, counsel to the inquiry, asked Crawford why Studio E did not follow it up. ‘My understanding was that they had been kept abreast of the development and the scheme,’ Crawford replied.

Exova was hired by the scheme’s client, Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, before the project shifted to design and build under Rydon. The main contractor did not keep Exova on the project, the firm’s lawyers have claimed and post-novation were ‘left out’ of discussions about materials for the cladding.

Asked by Millett who why he did not check who Exova was reporting to, Crawford said: ‘I didn’t see it as my business unless I had a concern.’

In the witness box, Crawford also said that he had never heard of the Lakanal House, Knowsley Heights, nor Garnock Court fires – nor those on high-rises in the United Arab Emirates.

Crawford was also asked about aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding and an email he wrote in March 2015, which said: ‘Metal cladding always burns and falls off.’

The Studio E associate said despite knowing this he did not believe it meant the cladding would not adequately resist the spread of fire across the external wall.

Asked by inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick if he had any sense of the difference between ACM with a polyethylene core and solid aluminium cladding regarding fire safety, Crawford replied: ‘I just viewed it as a laminated aluminium panel. I didn’t have any perception that it was, well, the monster that it has become.’

The inquiry continues.

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