Grenfell Tower: Cladding firm stretched the truth on fire safety

A company that made insulation used on Grenfell Tower was “stretching the truth” by claiming its product was appropriate for use on high-rise buildings, a former employee has said.

Kingspan fire-tested its cladding product in 2005, but changed the insulation’s formulation the next year.

The new version of the product failed to repeat the same performance.

Ex-technical director Ivor Meredith told the inquiry into the fire this was “common knowledge” at Kingspan.

The first phase of the Grenfell inquiry concluded that cladding put on the west London tower block during its refurbishment fuelled the fire in June 2017 in which 72 people died.

The inquiry is now examining how the blaze could have happened in the first place.

Mr Meredith described a fire test using the new version of Kingspan’s K15 in 2007 as a “raging inferno”, with the insulation “burning on its own steam”.

He told the inquiry he was shocked by what he saw.

Despite this, Kingspan continued to use the results from the original 2005 test to sell its material as appropriate for use on high-rise buildings.

Kingspan K15 insulation was used in the flammable cladding system mounted on to Grenfell Tower, alongside Celotex RS5000.

In 2015, two years before the Grenfell Tower fire, Mr Meredith told his managers he had been put in a position where he had been asked to maintain the appearance of fire safety performance that – as he put it – “that perhaps our products don’t deserve”.

He added that many would question the company “playing in [a] market [they were] not suitable for”.

The evidence comes a month after it was confirmed that test certificates for K15 from the 2005 tests had been withdrawn.

A letter sent to the inquiry from Kingspan dated 23 October – shown in full to Monday’s hearing – read: “We have undertaken a comprehensive review of all past and current test data which relates to K15.”

It added: “It became apparent that the K15 manufactured in 2005 would not be representative of the product currently sold on the market from 2006 to today.

“While both products are still phenolic foam, Kingspan is now of the view that there are sufficient differences to consider withdrawing the test report.”

Disabled childrens names revealed in Bristol City Council email

The identities of hundreds of families with disabled children have been shared with other parents without their consent by a council, in a “fundamental breach of trust and data”.

Bristol City Council sent an email asking for views on a new support service to hundreds of people.

The names of all the children and the email addresses of their primary carers were viewable to all recipients.

The authority said it was aware of the issue and was investigating.

The email, which has been seen by the BBC, was sent by the disabled children and specialist services department of the council.

A parent, who wished to remain anonymous, and who received one of the emails, said it was “a fundamental breach of trust and data”.

“It really signifies the disdain that they have for families with disabled children.

“It’s such a lack of concern for us. I feel this really exemplifies their indifference to the plight of disabled children in Bristol.”

She said there were 487 names of children and their carers visible on the email she received, and those names were all between “H and L” alphabetically, “so there will be a lot more”.

“Ironically, it’s about a survey that they want us to fill in to tell them how they can improve their services.

“It’s very difficult to put into words how ridiculous and unnecessary it is,” she added.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which investigates data breaches and can fine serious offenders, said it had not yet heard from the council, but pointed out the authority had 72 hours to report any breach.

Labour chief whip demands apology from Jeremy Corbyn

Labour’s chief whip has asked ex-party leader Jeremy Corbyn to “unequivocally” apologise for saying the scale of anti-Semitism in the party had been “overstated for political reasons”.

Mr Corbyn was suspended from the party following his comments but later readmitted as a member after saying he regretted any “pain” caused.

But, Sir Keir Starmer blocked Mr Corbyn from returning as a Labour MP.

The Labour leader said he would keep the decision under review.

The row between the former and current leader was triggered when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report, saying Labour had broken the law over its handling of anti-Jewish racism complaints by party members .

In a letter to his former boss, Nick Brown, Labour’s chief whip, said Mr Corbyn’s response to the report caused “distress and pain” to the Jewish community.

The chief whip is responsible for organising a party’s MPs in Parliament so they vote the way the party wants them to, and can discipline any who do not follow the party line.

Mr Brown asked the Islington North MP to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation apologise for your comments”.

He also sought confirmation that Mr Corbyn would remove or edit his response on Facebook – and that he would cooperate fully with the party’s efforts to implement the EHRC’s recommendations.

Following publication of the EHRC report in October Mr Corbyn said he was “always determined to eliminate all forms of racism” and insisted his team had “acted to speed up” the complaints process.

He also said the scale of anti-Semitism within Labour had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.

His comments prompted the party to suspend its former leader.

Three weeks later Mr Corbyn sought to clarify his words saying: “To be clear, concerns about anti-Semitism are neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’.

“The point I wished to make was that the vast majority of Labour Party members were and remain committed anti-racists deeply opposed to anti-Semitism.”

He was subsequently readmitted to the party as a member; however Sir Keir did not allow him back into the Parliamentary Labour Party – a decision Mr Corbyn’s lawyers have challenged.

Covid: What are the new rules for pubs around the UK?

New restrictions are coming into effect for pubs and restaurants in England once the lockdown ends on 2 December.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new tougher three-tiered regional measures for England.

Regions will learn which tier they are in on Thursday.

Tier allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, and the regional approach is set to last until March.

This is on top of existing and recently updated rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Pubs will face different rules, depending on which tier they are placed.

Businesses are legally required to take customers’ contact details, so they can be traced if there is an outbreak. They can be fined up to £10,000 if they do not do this or if they take reservations of more than six, or do not enforce social distancing.

Staff in hospitality venues must continue to wear masks, as must customers when not seated at their table to eat or drink. The penalty for not wearing one, or breaking the ”rule of six” has doubled to £200 for a first offence.

Wedding receptions and wakes – where drinks and food are often served – will be permitted in tiers one and two.

People can have 15 guests for weddings, civil partnerships, wedding receptions and wakes, as well as 30 guests for funerals in all tiers. But in tier three, wedding receptions will not be permitted.

Northern Ireland will go into a two-week circuit-break lockdown from 00:01 GMT on Friday 27 November.

Currently pubs, bars and restaurants are shut, except for takeaways and deliveries, which must stop by 23:00.

From 27 November, these closures will continue, and cafes and coffee shops will also need to close, except for those offering takeaways.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes are open and a maximum of four people can meet indoors, unless they are from a single household. This does not include children under the age of 11.

Any hospitality venue serving alcohol must provide table service only and all food and drink has to be consumed at tables.

Entry to premises is controlled and you will probably be required to pre-book with details of all members of the group.

Patrons must wear face coverings except when seated to eat or drink.

TV broadcasts are to be kept at a low volume, and live music should only take place if the venue can demonstrate that risks can be mitigated.

Businesses are legally required to take customers’ contact details, so they can be traced if there is an outbreak. They can be fined up to £10,000 if they do not do this or if they take reservations of more than four, or do not enforce social distancing.

Each area of Scotland has been placed in one of five tiers.

Eleven local authority areas in west and central Scotland have recently moved from level three to level four, affecting two million people.

The areas are: City of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

Restaurants, pubs and bars can open in regions that are placed in level zero, level one, level two or level three.

In level zero, up to eight people from three households can meet indoors, while in level one, a maximum of six people from two households can meet indoors.

In level two, pubs, bars and restaurants are permitted to sell alcoholic drinks only if they come with substantial meals, like a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal.

This is allowed only until 20:00 indoors, and outdoors until 22:30.

In level three, alcohol sales are not permitted either indoors or outdoors. Cafes, pubs and restaurants are permitted to serve food and non-alcoholic drinks until 18:00.

And in level four, all hospitality venues must close.

Table service and the wearing of face coverings when not seated by all customers is mandatory in all hospitality venues.

UK pub and hospitality bodies have published guidance for bars and restaurants on how to operate contact tracing.

Stanley Metcalf death: Home secretary meets shot boys mother

The mother of a boy shot dead by his great-grandfather has met the home secretary as part of her campaign to tighten the law on air guns.

Stanley Metcalf, six, died after being hit by a pellet fired from an unlicensed air rifle in Sproatley, near Hull, in July 2018.

His great-grandfather Albert Grannon was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Stanley’s mother Jenny Dees has called for all air weapons to be licensed.

Ms Dees said she was “more hopeful” after the meeting in London with Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“I just explained how traumatic this has been and I don’t want another family to go through this,” she said.

“I just basically said that I would like to see a licence being put in place and also if she could look at that there’s no database put in place.

“So that if you are convicted of a crime you can come out that same day out of prison. You could then go into a store and buy another gun, because there’s no database for that shop owner to check if you’ve been convicted of a crime.”

In his trial last year, Sheffield Crown Court heard Grannon shot Stanley in the abdomen from a few feet away at a family gathering at the pensioner’s house.

The court heard the weapon needed a firearms certificate because its power meant it was categorised as “specially dangerous”.

Grannon admitted possessing an air rifle without holding a firearms certificate, along with the charge of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Covid rules disregarded as Swale becomes second worst-hit area

Coronavirus rules are being “wilfully disregarded” in the district with one of the highest infection rates in England, the local council leader said.

Swale in Kent has the second highest rate in England, according to figures for the week to 19 November.

Roger Truelove, leader of Swale Borough Council, said it was “frustrating” to see people not wearing face coverings and breaking social distancing rules.

An emergency meeting took place earlier to discuss the issue.

The district, which includes the Isle of Sheppey and towns such as Sittingbourne and Faversham, has a population of about 150,000.

As the meeting took place, nearby Medway Maritime Hospital announced the death of nurse Hannah Jackson, who is understood to have died after developing Covid-19.

It has been uncommon for an area of the South East to report an infection rate in the top 20 of England’s 315 local authorities.

But two areas in Kent are now showing significant increases – Swale, with the second highest infection rate of 565 per 100,000 people and Thanet with the third highest rate of 508.

Swale had earlier overtaken Hull as the worst-hit area in England, with a rate of 631.7 per 100,000 people in the week to 18 November.

Figures for the week to 19 November show Hull once again has the highest rate in England, at 568.6 cases per 100,000. The rate has fallen from 743.4 in the week to 9 November.

Prison Service officials joined the emergency meeting in Kent following suggestions that outbreaks in the area’s three jails could be making a “limited contribution” to the high infection rate.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Truelove said it was found that only 12% of cases in the past fortnight were in care homes and prisons.

The virus was being spread in people’s homes and at social gatherings, he said.

“It only takes a small number of people to create the clusters of cases that are driving up our figures,” he added.

Support would be targeted at people who “might not feel able to follow the rules,” including people who “may be unwilling to get a test as they can’t afford to have time off work,” he said.

Andrew Scott-Clark, public health director at Kent County Council, said infections were rising among households with lower incomes.

“They are effectively some of our care workers and key workers who have to go out and are more likely to be exposed by the virus,” he said.

Whole families were being infected as the virus spread within a home, he added.

Mr Truelove had earlier: “I know most people and businesses are doing what they should, but it is frustrating to still see people not wearing face coverings or keeping their distance when they should.

“This kind of wilful disregard of the rules means we are more likely to have further restrictions imposed on us in December, which is hugely unfair for people and businesses who have been doing the right thing since March.”

Prof Sarah Gilbert: The woman who designed the Oxford vaccine

If Prof Sarah Gilbert had gone with her instincts, the latest coronavirus vaccine to show highly promising results might never have been.

Years ago, studying for her PhD, she considered packing in science altogether. As a young student in biological sciences at the University of East Anglia, she was energised by the diversity of thought and experience in the department.

But when she progressed to her doctorate, at the University of Hull, she found the tunnel-like focus, was not to her liking.

“There are some scientists who will happily work more or less on their own on one subject for a very long… That’s not the way I like to work. I like to try to take into account ideas from lots of different areas,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific, earlier this year.

“I did consider leaving science at that point and doing something different.”

Eventually though she decided to have “one more go at a scientific career… I needed the income”.

It was a decision that led us to the announcement on Tuesday morning that, according to the results of late stage trials, the University of Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine is highly effective at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms. Interim data suggests it affords 70% protection, but researchers say the figure may be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose.

Born in Kettering, Northamptonshire in April 1962, Sarah Gilbert’s father worked in the shoe business while her mother was an English teacher and member of the local amateur operatic society.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Profile, one school friend recalled Sarah’s silent steeliness – a trait which perhaps explains her decision, years later, to stick with her PhD despite her doubts.

Having completed her doctorate, she got a job with a brewing research centre, looking at how to manipulate brewing yeast, before moving on to work in human health. She had never meant to be a vaccine specialist. Yet by the mid-1990s, she was in an academic job at the University of Oxford, looking at the genetics of malaria. And that led to work on malaria vaccines.

Her life became a little more complicated when she gave birth to triplets. Raising them is an experience which one friend suggested explains her “no nonsense approach”.

Her son Freddie describes his mother as always being supportive and having the children’s best interests at heart. All three children chose to follow their own path, he says – although all ended up choosing to study biochemistry at university.

Meanwhile, at Oxford, Dr Gilbert rose through the ranks, becoming a professor at the university’s prestigious Jenner Institute. She set up her own research group in a bid to create a universal flu vaccine, meaning a vaccine which would be effective against all the different strains.

In 2014, she led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine. And when the Mers – Middle East respiratory syndrome – virus struck, she travelled to Saudi Arabia to try to develop a vaccine for this form of coronavirus.

The second trial of that vaccine was just beginning when, in early 2020, Covid-19 emerged in China. Prof Gilbert quickly realised she might be able to use the same approach.

“We were quick,” says her colleague at Oxford, Prof Teresa Lambe. As Chinese scientists published the genetic structure of the new virus “over the weekend, the vaccine was pretty much designed. We went pretty fast with it.”

Her urgency, in the face of Covid’s death march around the world, might explain some of her more unorthodox working practices. Emails come in as early as 4am, says Prof Lambe, who, explains that Prof Gilbert tends to work from very early in the morning until the late evening.

It took a few weeks to create a vaccine that worked against Covid in the lab. Then the first batch went into manufacture by early April, as the rigorous testing regime expanded. Prof Gilbert described the process as a series of small steps – rather than there being a big breakthrough moment.

“From the beginning, we’re seeing it as a race against the virus, not a race against other vaccine developers,” she said earlier this year. “We’re a university and we’re not in this to make money.”

School, university friends and colleagues describe a conscientious, quiet and determined person and someone with “true grit”.

“Sometimes I think she can be quite shy and reserved to people,” one of her PhD students, told Profile. “Some colleagues I had at the Jenner Institute always were a little bit intimidated by Sarah. But when you get to know her and you spend time with her, that’s not the case at all.”

The gaze of the world is now on Prof Gilbert and the world’s handful of other Covid vaccine architects, as they race against the clock.

“She’s gonna hate it, absolutely hate it,” says her friend, biochemist Dr Anne Moore. “I mean, Sarah is the person in the room who does not want to be in the limelight.”

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