Makers of Grenfell Tower cladding 'don't believe they did anything wrong', inquiry hears

Messages are written on a construction wall near Grenfell Tower in London, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.
Hearings over the next few weeks will focus on investigating how products used in the cladding system on the block were manufactured, tested and sold. Credit: PA

Manufacturers involved in the flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower still do not believe they did anything wrong, a lawyer working on behalf of victims and survivors of the fire has told an inquiry.

A representative of bereaved survivors and relatives told a hearing the manufactures sought to "trivialise" any wrongdoing or accept any responsibility.

Thursday saw the start of the second module of the second phase of the investigation into the 2017 fire which claimed 72 lives.

Hearings over the next few weeks will focus on investigating how products used in the cladding system on the block were manufactured, tested and sold.

Companies facing examination will include Arconic, who manufactured the rainscreen cladding panels installed on the 24-storey block during its refurbishment, and Celotex and Kingspan, who between them supplied the insulation for the system.

Arconic supplied the combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) panels used in the cladding system which was previously found to have fuelled the spread of the fire.

According to inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC, four current or former employees of Arconic have said they will not give evidence because of the risk of them breaking a French law which prevents evidence being given to proceedings abroad.

A total of 72 people died in the disaster Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Mr Millett encouraged the witnesses to speak to the inquiry and said that it was “hard to think that a French prosecutor would punish those individuals for giving evidence before a public inquiry … looking into a notorious fire in which so many were killed”.

Making an opening statement at the start of the module, Stephanie Barwise QC, representing one group of victims of the blaze told the inquiry: “It is all too clear that the manufacturers whose products were used at Grenfell were untroubled by the safety of their products and some of them remain so despite the disastrous fire.

“It is of great concern that even now, Kingspan seeks to trivialise its wrongdoing, and despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Arconic does not even accept that it did anything wrong.

“Instead, Arconic continues to perversely assert that its product could have complied even though that assertion is undermined by the test evidence.”

The inquiry heard the tower cladding 'created multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes'. Credit: Grenfell Inquiry

Stephen Hockman QC, speaking on behalf of Arconic, maintained that “the product was capable of being used safely, even for high-rise residential applications, if the appropriate cladding system was designed.”

Making an opening statement, he said: “Core participants have suggested that the company’s employees were or must have been aware that ACM panels would contribute to the spread of fire.

“We submit however that the correct question is whether there was an awareness that the panels could so contribute if the products were used within a cladding system that was not compliant with regulations or otherwise fit for purpose.”

In another development, Mr Millett also told the panel that Kingspan had withdrawn a number of test reports for an insulation product which was used on the tower.

In a letter to the inquiry last week, Kingspan noted the tests on K15 insulation products 2005 were found to be not representative of those which were sold from 2006.

“Clearly this is a matter of significant public importance and will need to be investigated in this module,” Mr Millett added.

The inquiry will continue next week as its work on module two gets under way.