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The UK sales manager for the makers of flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower has told the inquiry into the disaster he was “unaware” his French counterparts had been instructed to stop recommending the product on safety grounds more than a year before the fire.
The French sales division of Arconic was told a fire-resistant (FR) version of its cladding panels should be specified for all building projects regardless of height as it was “by far the safest”, according to an internal company email sent in May 2016.
The company made and sold the flammable aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen panels with a polyethylene (PE) plastic core that were fitted on Grenfell Tower.
Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick has already found the “principal reason” the flames shot up the building at such speed was the PE-cored cladding which acted as a “source of fuel”.
Vince Meakins, who became the corporation’s UK sales manager in 2015 when the Grenfell refurbishment was in an advanced stage, told the inquiry on Monday: “Up until the fire, the tragedy at Grenfell, there was nothing said to me to stop selling or producing or putting forward the PE product.”
A translated internal email from French sales director Alain Flacon in May 2016 said: “In view of the potential calorific benefits of Reynobond FR (vs Reynobond PE) and consequently its superior performances, we have taken the proactive habit of favouring FR as the only solution in our specifications.
“As from today I ask you to go even further and to systematically confirm in writing the requirement for FR for all projects on which a Reynobond specification is involved, regardless of the nature and size of the building project.”
He instructed employees to contact a superior who would “give you all the necessary information to justify this choice and advise the specifiers as best as possible regarding this solution, which is by far the safest”.
Shown the message by inquiry lawyer Kate Grange QC on Monday, Mr Meakins said: “I’ve never seen that email so, no, I was unaware of that… I was unaware of how it was being sold in France.”
Mr Meakins has said Arconic’s technical advisers never directly brought fire safety shortcomings of the PE product to his attention and has told the inquiry he “never would have been selling or involved with a product if (he) knew how combustible it was”.
“If I, for any reason, thought that it would have been a very combustible material or a combustible material then I would have asked questions to why we were selling it at all,” he has told proceedings.
An electrical fault with a fridge-freezer sparked the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, west London, on June 14 2017, claiming 72 lives.