17:14, October 26 90 0 theguardian.com

2020-10-26 17:14:03
Director at Grenfell Tower TMO describes how fatal cladding saved £800,000

A director at the landlord of Grenfell Tower has apologised for the “devastating” fire after he described his role overseeing hundreds of thousands of pounds in cost savings relating to combustible cladding installed on the council block.

Peter Maddison, director of assets and regeneration at the Kensington and Chelsea tenants management organisation (TMO), was close to tears at the end of his testimony to the public inquiry into the tragedy when he said sorry.

“Knowing what I know now there is no way we would ever have clad that building in anything that was flammable,” he said. “This was a traditional design and build contract, that seemed very straightforward and very ordinary in many ways and it has ended up in this tragedy. It’s just devastating. I am so sorry for the impact that it has had on so many people’s lives.”

Seventy-two people died as a result of the June 2017 fire. Maddison oversaw the refurbishment from 2013.

He was asked about the “candour” of his testimony by counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC, who wanted to know why he did not mention in his witness statement a “secret” meeting with the builders Rydon to cut costs, which may have breached procurement rules.

The March 2014 meeting had been called to discuss ways to cut £800,000 from the proposed cost of the refurbishment, including swapping zinc cladding for combustible aluminium composite panels that would become the main source of fire spread. However, Rydon had not yet been appointed and there were concerns that rival bidders, which were not being allowed to negotiate further budget changes, could complain.

“Until recently I had forgotten about this dialogue entirely,” Maddison said.

Under cross-examination Millett asked him: “Do you realise that as an officer of a public authority having exercised a public function, you owe a duty of candour and particularly a duty of candour to this inquiry?”

“Absolutely,” Maddison replied. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Do you accept that by not coming clean about these discussions in any of your statements … you failed in that duty?” Millett asked.

“I don’t agree,” said Maddison. “I didn’t remember the detail of this particular moment.”

The inquiry saw a 2014 email from the TMO’s lawyers, which asked if the TMO had considered whether Rydon’s £9.2m tender was “abnormally low” and asked “are you satisfied Rydon’s bid is sustainable”.

Maddison said: “the project was delivered on budget and that’s the best sign as to whether or not the price was the correct price.”

“Well, Mr Maddison, the fact that the project was delivered on budget is not of great assistance to us given that we know what happened to the building,” replied Millett.

The TMO drove down the “abnormally low” cost by a further £800,000 but Maddison again said he did not consider that unsustainable.

“Did you question whether there would be a difference in quality or performance when considering the substitution of zinc panels with ACM panels?” Millett asked.

“I don’t remember having a specific conversation on that personally,” he said. “The assumption here is that all materials proposed by the designers comply with building regs and the law.”

He said he didn’t ask why the ACM was so much cheaper – a potential saving of more than £300,000 – or whether it was fire safety compliant.

Maddison was also quizzed on why he did not hand over his diaries or notebooks about the refurbishment until 10 days ago.

He said that after the fire he was not asked to retain all of his documents in relation to the refurbishment or hand over his documents to anyone.

He said he told the TMO’s solicitors, Kennedys, about having notebooks and diaries and that one of the partners at the firm told him to keep hold of his notebooks but didn’t ask him to hand them over. He said he had used his notebooks to produce a timeline of events about the lead-up to the fire, which was used by Kennedys to write his witness statement for him.

The inquiry continues.

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