Sponsor is being examined as part of inquiry into fire that killed 72 people
Survivors and family members of the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire nearly five years ago have again urged Ulster Rugby to reconsider cutting its corporate ties with Kingspan.
The Cavan-headquartered company is Ulster Rugby’s lead sponsor, and is being examined as part of an inquiry into how Grenfell Tower came to be coated in flammable materials, which contributed to the spread of flames throughout the high-rise London building in June 2017.
Campaign group Grenfell United initially contacted Ulster Rugby in January 2021, asking them to reconsider their relationship with the insulation firm.
Last month, the Mercedes Formula 1 team ended a sponsorship deal with Kingspan after Grenfell United criticised the arrangement. Following this, Grenfell United again contacted Ulster Rugby’s Chief Executive Officer Jonny Petrie.
In an email sent to him on December 9, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the group said: “When we wrote to you back in January, you felt it wasn’t the right time for you to make a decision while the Inquiry was ongoing. We wanted to share an updated evidence pack which has come to light, which has informed others to do the right thing, and we hope will also urge you to reconsider.”
Ulster Rugby has been contacted for response, but in the past has repeatedly said it would not be making any comment whilst the inquiry is ongoing.
The UK housing minister, Michael Gove, also recently wrote to Ulster Rugby, asking it to consider its links with Kingspan.
The Irish building materials firm’s K15 insulation was one of the products installed in Grenfell Tower.
Kingspan tested K15 in 2005 using a full-scale fire test, but during the Grenfell inquiry it came to light that K15 was tested with non-combustible cladding panels and cavity barriers which did not represent an ordinary cladding system.
Kingspan admitted this and also admitted that the testing was, even then, 15 years out of date.
The system tested in 2005 would not actually be a cladding system installed on a building, but Kingspan then developed a new version of K15, which the inquiry has heard was chemically different to the original one they tested.
When challenged to prove the suitability of their insulation for high rises by a potential client in 2008, Philip Heath, who is still employed by Kingspan in a senior role, said in an internal email that they could "go f*** themselves" or the firm would sue them. During the inquiry, he conceded that his words were “totally unprofessional”.
Kingspan has previously said that it “played no role in the design of the cladding system on Grenfell Tower, where its K15 product constituted approximately 5% of the insulation and was used as a substitute product without Kingspan’s knowledge in a system that was not compliant with the building’s regulations”.
It added the exterior cladding, which it did not manufacture, was deemed by the inquiry to be the "principal reason" for how quickly the fire spread.
The Belfast Telegraph also contacted many of Ulster Rugby’s other sponsors, to see if they had any response regarding the club’s position to not make any comment at this time about the future of their relationship with Kingspan. While many have not replied to date, Danske Bank, Bank of Ireland and Openreach said they wish to make no comment at this time.
Inquiry hearings will recommence on January 24.