Grenfell refurbishment boss: Maybe I could have done something on cladding query

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A manager on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has suggested “maybe I could have done something” to help prevent the disaster, after he was sent an email which queried the fire performance of the proposed cladding and referred to a previous high-rise fire which killed six people.

Philip Booth, a project manager working for costing consultants Artelia, did not chase up the message in November 2014, which sought “clarification on the fire retardance of the new cladding”, the public inquiry heard on Thursday.

Mr Booth was sent an initial message by Claire Williams, of Grenfell landlords the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), querying issues of flame retardancy on proposed cladding, but he referred her to the main design and build contractor, Rydon.

He was then copied into another message sent by Ms Williams to Rydon, prompted by her “Lacknall moment” – a reference to the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Southwark, in which six people died when flames ripped through high-pressure laminate cladding panels on the tower block.

But Mr Booth said he assumed Ms Williams would have spoken with the main contractor and “sorted it out”, adding that he did not pursue it further.

He told the inquiry: “I had assumed it would be resolved. I got lots of these type of things and that was how things usually happened.”

Inquiry lawyer Kate Grange QC asked: “Wasn’t that a very important email on fire safety, potentially relevant to life safety on the project? Wasn’t that important for you to check it had been responded to?”

He replied: “Yes, it’s important. But I didn’t see it really as my job to check Claire was getting replies to every email.

“Looking at it now, you question in your mind ‘Maybe I could have done something’ but I think at the time it was just another email query.

“I directed her where to go to get the answer and nobody raised it to me as an issue going forward.

“I didn’t at that time have any concerns that there was any fire issues with the cladding being proposed.”

On Wednesday, the inquiry heard that the TMO opted against employing a design adviser, proposed by quantity surveyors Artelia, who could have checked plans outlining the building’s flammable cladding system as it was “reluctant” to spend an extra £30,000, and decided to perform the role in-house.

The aluminium composite material (ACM) panels used on Grenfell had a thermoplastic-filled core and had a heat combustion akin to diesel.

The inquiry has already found that they fuelled the inferno at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, which claimed 72 lives.