Grenfell Inquiry: Three cladding witnesses 'still refuse to give evidence'

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Three witnesses from the company which manufactured the flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower are still refusing to give evidence to the inquiry, the chief lawyer has said.

Gwenaelle Derrendinger and Claude Wehrle, who live in France, and Peter Froehlich, based in Germany, claim they will be at risk of prosecution in France if they speak to the public inquiry.

They all worked for Arconic, which manufactured and sold the rainscreen panels used on the west London tower block.

Speaking at the start of Tuesday’s session, Richard Millett QC said: “Each of these witnesses has been given a final chance to decide whether or not to come to give evidence to the inquiry.

“They still refuse to come to assist you, I regret to say.”

Mr Millett said their refusal cites the so-called French Blocking Statute (FBS), which bans people from disclosing documents or information of an economic, commercial, industrial, financial or technical nature with a view to establishing evidence in foreign judicial or administrative proceedings.

The French authorities disagree with this.

Reading from a note received by the inquiry in December, Mr Millett said: “The French authorities do not share the position that the blocking statute constitutes an obstacle to the examination of Arconic’s employees before the inquiry.”

However the note did not offer the witnesses immunity from prosecution, as that is deemed a matter for the French courts.

Mr Millett went on: “Since this inquiry is not a court, and cannot determine a person’s civil or criminal liability, it appears to the inquiry to be very doubtful that the FBS has any application to any evidence given to the inquiry.”

He added: “The inquiry’s position is that the refusal of these witnesses to come and give evidence is unreasonable.”

A fourth Arconic witness living abroad, Claude Schmidt, agreed last month that he will give evidence with the help of a translator.

He is due before the hearings later in February.

Tuesday’s hearing was adjourned for an extended period in the morning due to an issue with the technology being used to deal with evidence remotely.

Evidence has since continued, with lawyers hearing from witness Deborah French.