Grenfell expert witness claims the fire risks of cladding used on the tower were well known

An expert witness to the Grenfell Tower inquiry has said the combustible nature of the panels used on the high rise block’s façade should have been well known to contractors working on the refurbishment.

An experienced facade engineer, Jonathan Sakula listed 20 serious cladding fires around the world in the years preceding the June 2017 disaster that people in the industry knew about. Sakula said the construction industry had displayed a “head in the sand view” and “a failure of imagination” because the fires had not led to “great loss of life”.

He told the inquiry: “The combustibility of these panels was, in my opinion, well known in the industry, particularly since the UAE fires in 2012 to 2016.”

Regarding the plastic foam insulation used behind the panels on Grenfell, he added: “In my experience, the reasonably competent cladding contractor would have known that they were combustible.”

“The UAE fires were reported at the time as being specifically exacerbated by the ACM cladding,” Sakula said. “Those involved in the cladding industry would, or at least should, have been aware of the dangers inherent in using this type of cladding on tall buildings.

“As a general observation, I would expect the manufacturers of relevant materials to have been aware of these fires, and their implications, to a greater degree than cladding contractors. I would expect such manufacturers to draw to the attention of their customers the relevant risks.”

Sakula said the main reason for using the combustible plastic-core cladding panels used on Grenfell was their cheapness compared with fire-retardant alternatives, and because they were lighter, which made them easier to install. The inquiry has previously heard that the saving from switching to the cheaper combustible panels was just under £300,000 on the £10million refurbishment.

The inquiry has also heard that builders and designers relied on certificates about the performance of the plastic materials, which in some cases were obtained through manipulation of test systems, and that they believed their use complied with building regulations.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor