Grenfell Tower fire consultant admits he spent just 33 minutes on refurbishment review in 2013

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  • July 13, 2020
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A senior fire consultant has admitted to spending just over half an hour peer-reviewing a fire safety strategy for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, an inquiry has heard.

Tony Pearson, who worked for fire consultancy firm Exova, conceded that his analysis of the housing complex was ‘possibly rushed’ in 2013 – less than four years before the blaze devastated the building and claimed the lives of 72 people.

Dr Pearson added that ‘with hindsight’ more information about the tower’s re-fit should have been available to him but said there was a ‘certain amount of urgency’ at the time. He said he did not know of plans to over-clad the concrete exterior of the 24-storey block when he reviewed the second issue of the fire strategy on October 24, 2013.

The consultant was sent the report compiled by his colleague, Terry Ashton, at 3.40pm. He then sent it back with some revisions at 4.13pm – taking just 33 minutes, the inquest heard last week.

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When asked by inquiry lawyer Kate Grange QC if he thought he had ‘sufficient’ time to peer-review the report, Dr Pearson admitted: ‘Obviously half-past three in the afternoon doesn’t give me a lot of time before end of play to review it.

‘There’s a certain amount of urgency there. I must have appreciated that urgency at the time. But I’ve got no specific recollection of my emotions at the time.’

Dr Pearson, who also works as an on-call firefighter, was further asked if he had the ‘adequate information’ to carry out his assessment at the time.

He told the inquiry that other information ‘probably should have been available’, including the minutes of design team meetings with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

But Dr Pearson, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in fire behaviour, added: ‘At the time there was nothing I felt I needed that I didn’t have.’

Ms Grange also asked: ‘We know that a number of those design team meetings included references to overcladding. Was that something ideally you would have known at this time?’

He replied: ‘Probably, yes.’

A third and final outline fire strategy was published around a fortnight later, in November 2013, and was peer-reviewed by a more junior colleague, the inquiry heard.

Dr Pearson said the peer-review process for the third issue ‘probably wasn’t as considered as one might ideally want it to be.’

The inquiry heard that his colleague Mr Ashton, produced three issues of the fire strategy report for the tower’s refurbishment between October 2012 and November 2013 without pursuing the architects, Studio E, to ask what materials they planned to use to encase the building.

Despite being aware of the architects’ intention to clad the building and being copied into correspondence outlining proposed cladding and insulation materials, none of Mr Ashton’s reports mentioned cladding or the dangers posed by certain types, the inquiry has heard.

Exova says it was never consulted about the flammable materials chosen to cover Grenfell and claims it was effectively sidelined after Rydon became the main contractor in 2014.

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