Grenfell: Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan deny responsibility for fire

Image: Unsplash/The Blowup

Arconic, the manufacturer of the Reynobond PE cladding used during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and insulation manufacturers Celotex and Kingspan, have all sought to deny responsibility for the Grenfell Tower fire in closing submissions given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

In their closing submissions for modules one and two of phase two of the Inquiry, the three firms stressed that the design and compliance of the cladding system used at Grenfell was the responsibility of the designers and contractors on the refurbishment project, rather than them as product manufacturers.

Arconic blames ‘wholly unorthodox’ panel fabrication

Stephen Hockman QC, counsel for Arconic, told the Inquiry that the firm sold its products in unfabricated form. He said: “Although general guidance was given as to possible methods of fabrication, the company could not and did not dictate methods of fabrication, let alone guarantee the performance of each product in any particular fabricated form.”

“Clearly the company had no control over the choice of the other materials, let alone the arrangements for the fitting together of those materials in combination.”

He explained how the raw panels were sold in France to fabricator CEP, which brought them into the UK and was “under a duty of care” when ordering the product to “assess and ensure that it was suitable for purpose”. CEP then cut and fabricated the panels in accordance with the design principles set out by architect Studio E before they were installed by contractors Rydon and Harley.

Hockman added: “At least half of the panels were fabricated in a wholly unorthodox manner that was clearly distinct from any fabrication used for the purpose of testing and was distinct from any method of fabrication contemplated by this company.”

Hockman also stressed that the manufacture and supply of ACM PE cladding was “at all material times lawful” in France and in the UK.

He added: “Decisions as to the choice and use of a particular product in a facade system, decisions as to the design of that system, and in particular the assessment of the combustibility and safety of the facade system, had to be a matter for those concerned in the design and construction of the facade.

“There are hundreds of examples of buildings which had been clad in ACM PE and had received regulatory approval, both in this jurisdiction and elsewhere. The Inquiry would have no basis for concluding that in all these cases fundamental mistakes or misunderstandings occurred in the past.”

Celotex ‘highlighted products’ combustibility’

On behalf of PIR insulation manufacturer Celotex, Craig Orr QC said the company acknowledged its shortcomings. He explained how two Celotex products, RS5000 and TB4000, were supplied to Grenfell Tower. RS5000 was used as insulation in the cladding system and TB4000 was purchased from a builder’s merchant and used to fill gaps in window surrounds.

Orr said: “PIR is and has been widely used in the construction industry. It is an organic compound which, in common with all organic compounds, will combust under certain conditions. Its combustibility was clearly highlighted by Celotex in its health and safety data sheet which was available on Celotex’s website and cited in Celotex’s product literature, including the RS5000 data sheet on which a number of designers and contractors involved in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment claim to have relied.”

He continued: “The design and compliance of the cladding system at Grenfell Tower was the responsibility of specialist designers, contractors and consultants engaged on the refurbishment. Those included Studio E, the architects; Harley, the specialist cladding contractor; Rydon, the design and build contractor; Exova, the fire engineer; and Max Fordham, the M&E advisers. Each of those construction professionals held themselves out as having the necessary experience and expertise to carry out their respective roles. They each had specific responsibilities in relation to the design and construction of the cladding facade under the terms of their respective contracts.

“They were responsible for ensuring that the cladding facade complied with Building Regulations. Celotex was not part of the design or construction team on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. Celotex did not design or construct the cladding system at Grenfell Tower. Its sole role was as the manufacturer of the insulation which was supplied through distributors for the refurbishment.”

Kingspan: ‘No direct involvement’

Kingspan’s QC Geraint Webb claimed Kingspan had “no direct involvement” in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. He said: “It played no role in the design or installation of the cladding system. It provided no advice or technical guidance to those responsible for the design of the refurbishment or the installation. It had no contractual relationship with the council or the TMO, or any of the designers or any of the contractors engaged on the refurbishment. It did not provide any products provided to those involved in the refurbishment. It was not informed that its K15 phenolic insulation product was being used on the tower, and it was not aware that K15 had been used on the tower until after the fire.”

He added: “Those responsible for the design of the refurbishment had specified that Celotex’s PIR insulation would be installed behind the cladding, and almost all of the rainscreen insulation purchased for the tower, approximately 95% of it, was Celotex’s PIR. However, since the fire, it’s become clear that a limited amount of K15 phenolic insulation was used as a substitute when supplies of the Celotex PIR could not be obtained for a short period. In total, only about 5% of the rainscreen insulation purchased for use on Grenfell Tower was K15.”

BRE tests ‘did not relate to Grenfell’

Samantha Leek QC, for the BRE, said the testing house “did not test or classify the composite systems that were installed on Grenfell Tower”.

Leek said: “No manufacturer engaged a testing house to do that task. However, during the course of the evidence, the following matters that did involve BRE were scrutinised by the Inquiry. BRE tested to BS 8414−1 a system that incorporated K15 on 31 May 2005. BRE produced a BR 135 classification report for that specific system in 2015. BRE tested to BS 8414−2 a system that incorporated RS5000 on 2 May 2014, and it produced a BR 135 classification report that inaccurately listed the components in that system.

“These tests at BRE were of different systems from those fitted on the tower, and the relevant BRE test reports and classification reports do not relate to or classify any systems other than the systems tested on those dates, nor do they relate to or classify any individual component parts. Anyone saying or believing otherwise was wrong.”

Leek said the formula of K15 was changed without BRE’s knowledge after the May 2005 test, rendering the classification report “of no use to Kingspan, the market or building control”. Kingspan continued to use the report but Leek said there was “no obligation on a test laboratory to interrogate the test sponsor as to whether the composition of any components has changed between the test and the issuing of a classification report, and there was no error at BRE in issuing that classification report, which stated that it was valid only for the system as installed and as detailed in the corresponding test report”.

When it came to testing Celotex’s products, Leek said: “With regard to Celotex’s test of May 2014, it is also a fact that the cladding system described in Celotex’s classification report would, if it had been subject to the test, have been capable of achieving BR 135 classification. This was established when the system as described in that classification report was tested to BS 8414−2 following the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2018.”

She added: “Whether, how and to what effect Kingspan and Celotex misused their test and classification reports is a question for the Inquiry to answer. BRE is deeply troubled by the evidence about how those reports were used by Kingspan and Celotex. Irrespective of causation, BRE understands why Celotex’s May 2014 test at BRE was subject to particular scrutiny. Former employees of Celotex have told this Inquiry that they intentionally committed a fraud on the market by misdescribing a cladding system for which Celotex was the test sponsor. Celotex failed to declare that the system tested by BRE on 2 May 2014 included a 6mm magnesium oxide board and that two different thicknesses of Marley Eternit board were used, 8mm as well as 12mm.”

Leek added: “BRE accepts, and readily so, that the Inquiry’s scrutiny of the Kingspan and Celotex tests, while they did not relate to the cladding systems that were installed on to Grenfell Tower, has identified that there was room for improvement in BRE’s own processes and procedures. BRE recognises that its processes in 2014 were insufficiently robust to identify Celotex’s dishonesty.

“It is accepted that there were genuine shortcomings in BRE’s testing of Celotex’s system on 2 May 2014. The way in which that test was conducted did not meet the high standards that BRE expected of itself. Amongst other things, the magnesium oxide board should have been spotted and should have been recorded in the test report.”

The Inquiry continues.

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  1. Panel company should not be held responsible for where they are fitted – that’s down to the architect and contractors. However due diligence would have suggested that an alternative product would have been more suitable. If product tests where legitimate then Kingspan, and Celotex would have nothing to worry about – Celotex FR product removed from market just after this incident and then issues highlighted about the change in Kingspan recipe for their insulation. Kingspan appear to be a bit of a scape goat here as only 5% of their product used – The whole design – installation needs to be addressed as well as the current legislation at the time which was flawed. Many elements failed here and we need to be better as an industry – lives at stake, and the legacy buildings also approved and built at the same time or before. ACM panels produce such a high fire load really should not be suitable for use anywhere. If different markets rejected their use why was the UK still accepting them as suitable products – Test results and classification – which needs to be resolved to prevent anything like this happening again.

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