Grenfell refurbishment chief lacked overcladding experience, inquiry told

The managing architect on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower had no experience of overcladding residential blocks, the inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Bruce Sounes was in charge of the refurbishment design of the 24-storey tower block, his boss Andrzej Kuszell, director of Studio E architects, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Monday.

Richard Millett QC, lead lawyer for the inquiry, questioned Mr Kuszell on the selection of the team for the project.

He asked: “You told us he (Mr Sounes) said he didn’t have any experience of overcladding an occupied residential high-rise building,” to which Mr Kuszell said: “Correct.”

Mr Millett continued: “Until Neil Crawford joined in 2014, the team of professional architects on the Grenfell Tower project was not experienced at overcladding a residential tower block.”

Mr Kuszell confirmed that was also true.

Studio E was involved in the regeneration of neighbouring Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC), and later Grenfell Tower itself.

The inquiry also heard that the firm “got a bit of stick” for another design on the KALC project when “somebody made a comment that Studio E aren’t exactly residential architects”.

However, Mr Kuszell said he had faith his firm could complete the Grenfell job.

He said: “I believed we had the processes and experience of complex buildings to be able to undertake this commission. It wasn’t just my belief, it was clearly the belief of all senior members.”

He added: “We put the project in the hands of one of our most senior and experienced people… I had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Mr Sounes is due to start giving evidence to the hearing on Monday afternoon.

Mr Kuszell’s evidence was slightly delayed on Monday, after the hearing had to be adjourned when it was interrupted by protesters.

People were heard shouting “Why don’t you ask the corporates to leave?”, “It’s a disgrace” and “What’s the f****** point?” as inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick invited the day’s first witness, Mr Kuszell, to start giving evidence.

As the hearing resumed around 10 minutes later, another man in the room addressed Sir Martin and said: “These people are not bereaved and survivors.”

Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower

Several people were escorted from the hearing room during the break.

The angry scenes came on the first day of the hearing after a month’s delay, during which Attorney General Suella Braverman guaranteed anything said by witnesses will not be used to prosecute them.

The Attorney General’s pledge stops oral evidence given by individual witnesses being used against them in any criminal prosecutions over the fire, which killed 72 people in 2017.

It does not cover any documents submitted to the inquiry and does not stop witness evidence being used against corporations in future prosecutions.

Speaking after the interruption, Sir Martin said: “I was slightly surprised because, during the phase one hearings I was very impressed by the way in which everyone listened to the witnesses in a respectful and dignified way.

“Obviously, you may hear things that you don’t like to hear and people may feel strongly about some of the evidence, but it’s very important… that the witnesses are allowed to give their evidence with dignity and respect from everyone.”