Grenfell Inquiry: Government-commissioned tests flagged cladding dangers in 2002

Report contained warnings about aluminium composite material panels almost 15 years before west London tragedy
Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Jim Dunton

23 Feb 2022

A fire-performance report commissioned by the government warned of the danger posed by the type of cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower almost 15 years before flames engulfed the west London tower block, claiming 72 lives, it has emerged.

Evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, probing the June 2017 disaster, heard this week that a report to officials at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – forerunner of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – raised stark concerns in September 2002.

The report brought together the findings of 14 tests on different types of cladding and render. It found aluminium composite material panels filled with polyethylene cores,  similar to the the kind fitted to Grenfell Tower in its ill-fated refurbishment, to be “one of the worst-performing products”.

Inquiry lead counsel Richard Millett QC said that five minutes into the Building Research Establishment test on the ACM panels, flames had reached a height of 20 metres. He said evidence showed the 2001 test had been terminated early because it was considered too dangerous for it to continue.

Millett on Monday asked former BRE managing director Dr Debbie Smith whether she had concluded the situation was a “catastrophic escalation”.

She replied: “Clearly it was not performing well in the test scenario that we were using.”

The BRE report was submitted to Anthony Burd, a senior official at ODPM on 19 September 2002.

Smith said she would have been “very surprised” if the full human reaction to the scale of risk the tests had exposed with ACM cladding had not been conveyed to the department, along with the formal scientific testing data.  

“I don’t think there was ever any doubt in my mind that that was fully conveyed and that the department sort of didn’t understand,” she said. “I think the department were very aware.”

However, she said she did not have such a discussion with officials at ODPM and did not know “definitively” that such discussions had taken place.

The ACM cladding added to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment, and the insulation fitted behind it, have already been identified as the principal reason the fire took hold of the block so rapidly in the early hours of 14 June 2017.

The Grenfell Inquiry’s Phase One report found that the refurbishment project, which principally ran between 2014 and 2016, gave the building a new exterior that not only failed to “adequately resist the spread of fire”, as required by building regulations, but one which “actively promoted it”.

Witnesses from DLUHC and its predecessor bodies are due to begin giving evidence today, starting with former official Burd.

The inquiry continues.

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