On November 1, 2020, Kingspan’s attorneys sent us a letter demanding that we discontinue circulation of our report based on what they called “inaccurate and libelous statements.”
Our report documents an earlier attempt by Kingspan to keep information from the public. Starting in November 2013, the NHBC, the UK’s leading provider of home warranties and insurance, had attempted to get answers from Kingspan about its concerns with using K15 in high rises. Finally, in February 2015, it cc’d another email directly to Kingspan’s CEO, Gene Murtagh, again saying that they will have to advise builders of its concerns if Kingspan did not provide evidence to the contrary. Kingspan’s response was to threaten to sue for defamation in a letter that cited two large-scale tests that had used versions of K15 different from the version being sold at the time. The NHBC didn’t know this at the time — it was only revealed through the Inquiry — and the NHBC backed down from releasing the information to the public. Earlier, when another company, Bowmer & Kirkland, had raised concerns about Kingspan’s advice in relation to use of K15 in a high-rise with a steel frame structure [for which it had not passed a large-scale test], the Kingspan manager wrote to his team that “I think Bowmer & Kirkland are getting me confused with someone who gives a dam[n]. I’m trying to think of a way out of this one, imagine a fire running up this tower. !!!!!!!!!!! Any ideas?” And about another company that raised concerns, he said “Wintech can go f#ck themselves, and if they’re not careful, we’ll sue the a#se [off] them.”
In their letter to us, Kingspan’s attorneys singled out four statements from our report as “verifiable falsehoods.” Here are those statements and our response to each, drawn from documents and testimony produced during the Grenfell Inquiry, so you can form your own opinion.
From our report: “The company’s documented conduct that has recently been exposed in the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry has concerned its Kooltherm K15 insulation, the primary Kingspan product used in a small portion (5.2%) of London’s Grenfell Tower as part of the exterior insulation and cladding system that is believed to have contributed to the extraordinarily rapid spread of the fire up the side of the building” (emphasis added in Kingspan’s letter).
Kingspan’s reply [see original for full text]: In its letter, Kingspan claims that “The ‘principal reason’ for the rapid flame spread was determined by the Inquiry to be the PE-cored ACM cladding. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the insulation (not to mention the Kingspan insulation, which comprised only a small portion of the installed insulation) contributed in any meaningful manner to the rapid spread of fire.”
Our Response: Kingspan cites Para. 2.13(a) of the Inquiry’s Phase One report as the source for its observation that the “principal reason” for the fire was the PE-cored ACM cladding. But the very next sub-paragraph of the Phase One report (Para. 2.13(b)) goes on to state: “The presence of polyisocyanurate (PIR) and phenolic foam insulation boards behind the ACM panels, and perhaps components of the window surrounds, contributed to the rate and extent of vertical flame spread.” (p. 12.) The Phase One Report goes on to conclude: “It is clear that the use of combustible materials in the external wall of Grenfell Tower, principally in the form of the ACM rainscreen cladding, but also in the form of combustible insulation, was the reason why the fire spread so quickly to the whole of the building.” (p. 772) (emphasis added).
From our report: “Until October 2020, Kingspan continued to use a 2005 large-scale fire test to market K15, despite the fact that Kingspan had introduced a new, more flammable, version of K15 in 2006.”
Kingspan’s reply [see original for full text]: Kingspan’s letter claims “There is absolutely no scientific or expert evidence to support the assertion that the ‘new’ version of K15 introduced in 2006 is ‘more flammable’ or had a worse fire performance than the pre-2006 K15 product.”
Our Response: In Kingspan’s own internal test report after a test conducted with K15 in December 2007, the Kingspan manager in charge of large-scale testing noted that:
By 17 minutes the top fire barrier had breached and the raging inferno moved up to the top thermocouples and pushed them past 600 degrees thus failing the simple criteria of BR135.
The phenolic was burning on its own steam and the BRE had to extinguish the test early because it was endangering setting the laboratory on fire.
Under “Why did it fail,” he wrote:
The new technology Phenolic is very different in a fire situation to the previous technology which has passed several similar tests.
The Phenolic burnt very ferociously.
In all honesty from what I have seen the way the phenolic burned is of the most concern.
Kingspan’s internal report includes a section “Comments from the BRE [the testing organization]:”
The official line — It’s a system failure no individual component can be solely held responsible for the failure.
However (unofficial comment) It was apparent that the insulation was fully involved in the test. Surface spread of flame was apparent, and the core continued to burn when the flame source had been extinguished. They stated they did not remember the product performing like that last time.
In December 2020, Ivor Meredith, the technical manager for Kingspan during this period is asked during the Inquiry:
Inquiry: But you also knew, more fundamentally, by this point  that the K15 that’s being sold performs even worse in a test situation than the old K15 in that 2005 report, didn’t you?
Meredith: Yes, that was correct.
A few months later, in June 2008, this same manager emailed his boss, Malcolm Rochefort, with the subject line “K15 problems” about another large-scale test that had used K15 and had failed to meet the BR 135 standard:
The question of K15s bad fire performance is no longer just an internal one. It would seem Offsite [a Kingspan division] had a very dramatic test failure.
Once I have reviewed the information I will provide a more comprehensive report later however the attached picture shows the most recent K15 test performed by Offsite and K15 burning under its own steam 10 minutes after the test was put out. Offsite are gravely concerned that we are selling something that doesn’t do what we say it does. [emphasis in the original].
Later in the email chain, he notes that:
Whereas [K15 produced with the] old process will self extinguish, [K15 produced with the] new process has proven itself in a vertical situation to continue to burn when the flame source is removed. We do have a paper trail that shows considerably better performance with old tech however this cannot be applied to steel frame facade situations which is 80% of the market.
From our report: “Although technically allowed at the time by the U.K. building code, Kingspan also used what it called a ‘loophole’ and ‘a bit of a cheat’ to achieve a higher fire rating (Class 0) for K15 by testing only foil surface of the insulation, even though the complete product had failed the test.”
Kingspan’s reply [see original for full text]: “The truth is K15 did achieve the “Class 0” fire rating for surface spread in a flame test in accordance with the plain words of the statutory guidance at the time…There was no “cheat” or “loophole,” and K15’s Class 0 classification is in accordance with a reasonable, valid and legitimate interpretation of the relevant statutory guidance.”
Our Response: The words “loophole” and “bit of a cheat” are words that had been used by Kingspan’s own employees in internal emails, and those employees are raising issues with the use of this interpretation, based on the fact that the product as a whole had failed the same test and Kingspan’s external fire engineer (Exova), while agreeing that the interpretation was allowed by the then-current building code, had advised Kingspan to test the complete product before making any claim “as the foam behind the foil is likely to have a bearing on the facing performance.”
See “A Bit of a Cheat” for more information
From our report: “Between 2006 and 2015, in other words, there was not a single successful large-scale fire test that could be applied to K15. Instead, there were tests on versions of K15 that were not actually the product being sold in the market.”
Kingspan’s reply [see original for full text]: Kingspan responds to this by declaring that “In 2015 alone there were three large scale test passes on systems incorporating K15. In total, there are currently 14 large scale test passes on systems incorporating K15 and these are listed at footnote 5 of Kingspan Insulation’s Module 2 Closing Statement.”
Our Response: Not a single one of those tests listed by Kingspan is prior to 2015.