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Grenfell insulation firm Kingspan used PR agency to lobby MPs weeks after deadly fire

Kingspan was founded in 1965 in Co Cavan.

Image: PA

Updated Dec 9th 2020, 1:32 PM

A GRENFELL TOWER insulation firm Kingspan, which was founded in Ireland, worked with a public relations agency to lobby MPs weeks after the deadly blaze, an inquiry has heard.

Kingspan used Portland over summer 2017 to try to convince “key decision makers” that combustible materials were safe if properly installed.

Kingspan was founded in Co Cavan in 1965 and is now in over 70 countries globally, employing in excess of 15,000 people. 

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred in West London on 14 June 2017, and led to the death of 72 people.

The firm, which manufactured the flammable Kooltherm K15 used on the refurbished London tower block, listed ideal targets on internal documents including then-home secretary Amber Rudd, and then housing secretary Sajid Javid, who went on to be chancellor under Boris Johnson.

Michael Gove, who still serves in the Cabinet, was also noted as a “key decision maker” as the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs at the time.

Other MPs from across the House of Commons were also mentioned in the Kingspan Political Engagement Plan as people the business wanted to get in touch with.

The overview of the document said: “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 makers. We want them to read it.”

It said messages from the firm needed to be “punchy, memorable and easy to understand”.

The document was shown as Kingspan’s head of technical and marketing, Adrian Pargeter, gave his third day of evidence to the inquiry.

It continued: “There is still a lot of discussion to be had about approaching the 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.”

The terms of reference were laid out in August 2017, around six weeks after the fire, suggesting that the Portland document was published at some point between mid-June 2017 and the end of the summer.

Jokes

Yesterday, the inquiry heard that staff at Kingspan, which is behind one of the flammable materials used on Grenfell Tower, joked about their “shit product” and “lies”.

Members of the technical team at Kingspan exclaimed “wheyy” and used “LOL” when chatting after their K15 insulation was only partially tested in an attempt to get it classed as fire safe.

Kooltherm K15 was the minority material used on the refurbished Grenfell Tower. Most of the insulation came from another firm, Celotex.

Yesterday the inquiry heard that a test to claim Class 0 was only done on a foil facer element of Kooltherm K15, rather than the whole composite material. This allowed it to be technically given Class 0 in England and Wales, but not in Scotland.

To obtain a Class 0 rating meant that a product was considered to be of limited combustibility.

These tests were the subject of an instant messenger chat between technical team members in 2016.

Arron Chalmers told his colleague Pete Moss that K15 “Doesn’t actually get Class 0 when we test the whole product tho LOL!”.

Adding: “Yeahhhh, tested K15 as a whole – got class 1, wheyy lol”.

After initially expressing surprise that the firm had “lied”, Moss responded with “Whey, shit product, scrap it”.

This was met by more messages from Chalmers, including “yeah, all lies mate” and “alls we do is lie in here [sic]”.

That manipulation was also referred to in other internal Kingspan emails as “a bit of a cheat”, yesterday’s hearing was told.

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These messages were all shown as the inquiry heard evidence from Adrian Pargeter, head of technical and marketing at Kingspan in the UK.

Of the instant messages, Pargeter said: “Reading that it’s certainly not the view that they espoused externally.

“It’s very disappointing to read that from my perspective.”

The actions were described by inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC as a “thoroughly disingenuous and opportunistic choice of words on your part to conceal the fact that K15 had never passed Class 0 and never would as a composite product”.

He added: “You were seeking to perpetrate a fraud on the market, and also to mislead customers into buying products that you knew had failed regulatory fire safety tests.”

The inquiry has previously been told that Kingspan sold its Kooltherm K15 insulation with an unrepresentative fire certificate based on a 2005 test which claimed it was safe for use on buildings higher than 18 metres.

These certificates have now been withdrawn from the market.

The firm has previously said it did not provide any advice about the suitability of K15 for use on Grenfell Tower and that the firm only learned a small amount of the insulation had been used on the building after the June 2017 fire, which killed 72 people.

The majority of the flammable insulation used on the tower was made by rival firm Celotex.

Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Kingspan had previously said: “Kingspan condemns unreservedly any actions that do not demonstrate a proper commitment to fire safety.” 

It is also understood that, arising from the inquiry, disciplinary procedures and investigations are ongoing into some current and former Kingspan staff.

The inquiry continues.

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