Kingspan hired public affairs companies after the Grenfell Tower disaster and targeted MPs and other decision makers in a bid to convince them that combustible insulation in high-rise buildings was “no more dangerous than non-combustible materials when properly installed”, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.
Adrian Pargeter, now director of technical, marketing and regulatory affairs for Kingspan Great Britain, told lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC how he had attended meetings with PR firm Portland in 2017, although he could not remember who at Kingspan engaged them in the first place.
A document headed “Kingspan political engagement plan”, drafted by Portland, read: “It’s time to get our message out to the people that matter,” suggesting that Kingspan make contact with MPs and other key decision makers.
It read: “We must be realistic though: some people will not want to meet you and they will not want to be lobbied. But there is still immeasurable value in getting Kingspan’s manifesto in front of these decision-markers. We want them to read it. We need them to read it. And that is why it’s vital that our messages are punchy, memorable, and easy to understand.
“…Finally, there is still a discussion to be had about the approaching public inquiry. We don’t know the inquiry’s terms of reference and we don’t know if Kingspan will be asked to give evidence.”
Among the public figures the document listed as targets were MPs Kevin Hollinrake and Helen Hayes, members of the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) select committee, and Clive Betts, chair of the MHCLG Committee, as well as “key decision makers” such as then-housing secretary Sajid Javid, then-home secretary Amber Rudd, Michael Gove, and Dame Judith Hackitt.
The Portland document also suggested meetings with then housing minister Alok Sharma, minister for policing and the fire service Nick Hurd, and minister for agriculture, fisheries and food (including “better regulation”) George Eustice.
A later email from an employee at public affairs firm Grayling read: “One of the key arguments that we need to win with political stakeholders is that combustible materials are no more dangerous that non-combustible materials when improperly installed. We’ve attempted to provide some lines on this but feel the argument needs to be stronger.”
Director denies ‘sowing doubt’ about non-combustibles
Kingspan embarked upon a series of tests of its own insulation behind rainscreen cladding, as well as tests of mineral wool insulation, in a bid to prove that systems involving non-combustible insulation could also fail system tests. Discussion of the tests came before the government eventually banned combustible materials on new high-rise homes in November 2018.
In a March 2018 email from Kingspan employee Mark Harris to Pargeter and others headed “Ulster tests/MHCLG lobbying”, Harris remarked it was clear that Hollinrake was “still pretty lukewarm about our draft letter/arguments to address MHCLG.”
Harris went on: “The major evidence gap is his concern about fire spread with ‘combustible’ systems but not with ‘non-combustible’. In other words he, and [members] of the select committee, need to see evidence to persuade them that poor installation is an issue in both systems.”
Harris suggested submitting Kingspan’s K15 to a medium-scale ISO 13785-1 test at Ulster University in a rig with 100m of insulation behind ACM cladding without cavity barriers and flashing at the top of the rig, and a second test with the same setup but using Rockwool Duorock insulation instead. He said: “There’s little doubt that flames will appear at the top of the rig during the test and the time differential between K15 and Duorock may not be significant.”
He added: “I think this evidence will be critically important in persuading Kevin Hollinrake to become an advocate of our view and very useful in lobbying activities elsewhere to demonstrate that so-called ‘deemed to satisfy’ systems can have rapid fire spread if cavities are not protected (for example as a result of poor insulation).”
There is no suggestion that Hollinrake or any of the other individuals targeted were influenced by Kingspan’s attempts at lobbying.
Later in the email exchange, Kingspan employee Jon Garbutt suggested that to ensure flames got to the top of the rig on the tests, the rigs should be built in such a way as to “create some draw”. He asked a colleague: “Would we be better using FR or A2 for this test Roy? Which would give most fuel to get the flames up there?”
In yesterday’s hearing, Millett asked Pargeter: “Why is John Garbutt asking the question, ‘Which would give most fuel to get the flames up there?’…Is he setting the rig up to fail?”
Pargeter replied: “I don’t think so, no, because like I say, you’d have to do it for both. So if it was more challenging for one, it would be equally more challenging for the other.”
Millett asked: “Was the purpose of that to demonstrate that K15 was no more risky than mineral wool?”
Pargeter said: “Yeah, I think it was to show a similar performance, yes.”
The Inquiry also heard of Kingspan set up BS 8414 tests in Dubai on non-combustible materials “deemed to satisfy” BR 135 (Fire performance of external thermal insulation for walls of multistorey buildings). Kingspan employees discussed building up a test configuration involving Duoslab insulation, a 38mm ventilated cavity, Alucobond A2 ACM cassettes with “weak” structural specification, and cavity barriers, that had the potential to fail the BR 135 criteria.
Millett asked Pargeter: “Looking at this, is it right that the basic plan was to show that materials which could be used on the linear route might be included in the BS 8414 system test, which would then fail?…Your commercial purpose in undertaking this effort would be to promote the use of K15 through 8414 tests?”
Pargeter confirmed that this was correct.
Millett asked if Kingspan was doing this to “sow doubts” in the mind of the MHCLG and about the safety of mineral wool and A2 products.
Pargeter said: “Not about the products themselves, no, because the products aren’t in themselves unsafe…It’s how they perform in a system which could be used on a building, as this system that’s outlaid there.”
Pargeter agreed that there was an “element of irony” in this approach, given that Kingspan K15 had been sold for several years “without an applicable test” after the chemical process used to make K15 was changed in 2006, following a 2005 BS 8414-1 test.
Millett asked Pargeter: “Did you see the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire as something of a commercial opportunity?”
Pargeter replied: “Absolutely not.”
Millett went on: “And you were going to exploit the commercial opportunity by…planting the seed of doubt about…the use of non-combustible and limited combustibility materials by directing attention to 8414 and how those materials, even if they are non-combustible, can perform badly in a full system test?”
Pargeter said: “No, what we know is, as the government testing proved, that had that system been subject to an 8414 test under the criteria of 135, it wouldn’t have passed.”
Sir Martin Moore-Bick then asked Pargeter: “Are we to understand that the motive for all this testing at Kingspan’s expense was to benefit the public at large?”
Pargeter replied: “I wouldn’t say it was entirely altruistic, but it’s part of it.”
The Inquiry continues.