Grenfell Inquiry: France-based cladding executive will give evidence

An executive of the manufacturers of Grenfell Tower’s flammable cladding panels will now give evidence to the public inquiry into the disaster, after reportedly resisting requests to attend.

Claude Schmidt, a France-based employee of the multinational Arconic, “has now agreed to attend to give oral evidence to the inquiry, notwithstanding Arconic’s previous objections based on the French Blocking Statute”, according to a letter sent to core participants by the inquiry on Wednesday.

Three other former Arconic employees who live in France have so far declined to give evidence, citing the seldom used 1968 French Blocking Statute, which prevents disclosure of commercial information to foreign proceedings.

However inquiry chief lawyer Richard Millett QC has said it is “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”.

Building safety minister Stephen Greenhalgh has called on the witnesses to “step up to the plate” rather than “hide behind” the statute.

Before Christmas, Grenfell survivors drove an electronic billboard to the French embassy in Knightsbridge, London, urging the French government to tell the witnesses to give evidence.

Bereaved and survivors campaign group Grenfell United said in a statement: “We continue to call for ALL Arconic witnesses to attend.

“72 people lost their lives and they are forever in our hearts. The truth must come out.”

An inquiry spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that we’ve written to core participants to let them know that the inquiry has been informed by DLA Piper LLP, the RLR for AAP SAS (Arconic), that Claude Schmidt has now agreed to attend to give oral evidence to the inquiry.”

Proceedings are due to resume remotely on February 8.

Mr Schmidt’s evidence is due to be given through a French language interpreter and could take up to four days.

Arconic and the Foreign Office have been contacted for comment.