Dinner with MPs not a bid to ‘access political power’, boss tells Grenfell probe

Thomas Hornall, PA
·3-min read

A manager at major insulation maker Kingspan has denied a private dinner with several MPs was a bid to “access political power” and improve the firm’s “commercial position in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire”.

Senior staff at Kingspan dined with MPs in the House of Commons in January 2018 after a “political engagement plan” was drawn up by PR firm Portland on behalf of the Ireland-based insulation giant, the inquiry into the disaster heard on Wednesday.

The lobbying plan was created around the time the Government was considering a ban on combustible materials in external walls of high-rise buildings, which would have damaged Kingspan’s ability to sell products to that market.

Kingspan argued for a full-scale test approach, meaning combustible products could be allowed in cladding systems provided the overall structure passed a relevant fire test known as BS 8414, the inquiry has heard.

On Wednesday, the inquiry heard Portland drew up a list of MPs with Kingspan sites in their constituencies and said in the political engagement plan document: “We will draft letters and emails on your behalf, we will ensure each one is tailored to the recipient and we will prepare you adequately for each and every meeting that you are granted.

“While we cannot promise you access, we will pull every string to ensure that your messages reach the key people.”

Inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC suggested this plan was “being proposed to Kingspan to obtain access to and to exert influence over individuals in a position to exercise decision-making powers which had been entrusted to them in the public interest.”

Richard Burnley, managing director of Kingspan UK between 2014 and 2019, disagreed, adding: “I think the purpose of the work that we were wanting done was to get us in front of people to try to put our point of view forward.”

It also emerged senior Kingspan staff had dinner with “two or possibly three” MPs in January 2018, including Conservative Kevin Hollinrake and Jim Shannon of the DUP, according to Mr Burnley.

Mr Burnley said the purpose of the dinner was “to talk about full-scale testing”, adding its purpose was “to discuss our point of view and explain what we thought was the validity of full scale testing”.

He said no minutes were taken.

Mr Millett said: “The truth is, isn’t it, this is Kingspan accessing political power in order to seek to improve its own commercial position in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, that’s the reality isn’t it?”

Mr Burnley said: “No, I don’t agree with that.”

It comes after Adrian Pargeter, Kingspan UK’s director of technical and marketing, on Tuesday denied attempting to “mislead” a Government committee over fire test data.

Kingspan has said it did not provide any advice about the suitability of K15 for use on Grenfell Tower, and that the firm only learned a small amount of the insulation had been used on the building after the fatal fire.

The inquiry is examining how Grenfell Tower came to be coated in flammable materials which contributed to the spread of flames which shot up the tower.

Proceedings continue on Thursday with more evidence from Mr Burnley.