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Grenfell Tower may have been used as "a guinea pig" for a newly branded insulation material that burned and released toxic gas, contributing to the deaths of 72 people, the inquiry into the disaster has heard. Foam boards used to insulate the west London council block were sold at an almost 50% discount by their manufacturer, Celotex, to contractors who were asked for help making the refurbishment a "case study" for the firm, the public inquiry was told. The synthetic foam - Celotex RS5000 - was not in the original architects' specification for the tower and the project manager for Harley, the cladding contractor, admitted on Monday that he did not check it complied with building regulations to prevent fires spreading through the external walls of tall buildings.
A salesman for Celotex had pushed the idea of using Grenfell Tower as a case study for using polyisocyanurate foam on tall buildings. Ben Bailey, the project manager on Grenfell for Harley, said the only assessment of its performance that he saw was of its thermal insulation, not its fire performance. Bailey was put in charge of the cladding contract aged 25, despite having no experience overseeing a project as project manager from start to finish.
He is the son of the owner of Harley, Ray Bailey, and told the inquiry on Monday that he had received no training or qualifications in fire safety in construction of buildings, in building regulations or industry codes of practice for design and installation of cladding and windows. The Celotex insulation was fitted behind aluminium composite panels, also combustible, with a polyetheleyne core. Together with failures in the installation, the materials fuelled the deadliest fire in the UK since the second world war.
It has since been withdrawn from sale. Bailey, now 30, said Harley had been offered a 47.5% discount on the foam, which the counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, described as "hefty". Bailey said it was not unusual on large orders.
Asked if the reason for using the material was its price, Bailey replied: "I don't believe that was the case." The inquiry saw a document that showed that in April 2015, Celotex had discussed with Bailey the opportunity to use the Grenfell project as "a case study" for their new material aimed at the high-rise market: RS5000. "I don't remember that meeting or that being discussed particularly," said Bailey, but he said it was on later occasions.
"Did you get the impression that Grenfell Tower was, as it were, a guinea pig for the installation of RS5000?" asked Millett. "That's not a thought that crossed my mind," he said. But he added: "There was correspondence later in the year about a case study."
Celotex RS5000 was introduced to the market just as Harley was starting to source materials for Grenfell. It differed from the material on the architect's specification. Harley had a contractual obligation to Rydon, the main contractor, to only change materials with its consent, but Bailey said he didn't know this.
Neither did he look at a contractual document that said Harley was responsible for making sure the cladding met the demands of official guidance on the fire performance of external walls. It also said Harley had to comply with all building regulations and a national standard for walls with vertical rainscreens, and stated: "The system shall not be a fire risk at any stage of installation, nor shall it constitute a fire hazard after completion if for any reason the insulant becomes exposed." "I wasn't aware of that document at the time," Bailey said.
Bailey was also unaware that product literature for RS 5000 stated that its classification for safe use on buildings over 18m only applied to the system as tested and detailed in the classification report, which did not test it with combustible, plasti-filled aluminium panels "That's not something I was aware of," Bailey said. He said had no training in understanding building regulations or in keeping up-to-date with industry codes of practice for the design and installation of cladding and windows.
He said it was never his role to be considering the fire performance of the materials.
The inquiry continues.