Grenfell inquiry: Cladding giant failed to disclose ‘disastrous’ failed fire test

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Cladding giant Arconic did not tell certifiers about a “disastrous” failed fire test on one of its products despite being “legally obliged” to do so, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

Claude Schmidt, the president of the multinational corporation’s French arm, denied the test results were “deliberately concealed”, but agreed the omission amounted to a “misleading half truth” during proceedings on Wednesday.

He agreed the firm was “legally obliged” to share the 2004 test “5B” data for its Reynobond PE cassette product with certifiers and agreed it was a matter of “absolutely crucial safety information”.

Arconic’s Reynobond PE (polyethylene) panels came in two differently shaped variants – cassette and rivet.

But cassette, which was eventually fitted on the west London high-rise block, burned much faster and released around seven times as much heat and three times the rate of smoke as the riveted version.

However, cassette test data was not shared with certification bodies or customers and cassette and rivet were sold under the same fire safety certificate issued by the British Board of Agrement (BBA) in 2008.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s chief counsel Richard Millett QC said under Arconic’s contract with the BBA it had to provide “any test data available”.

He asked Mr Schmidt: “Would it follow that Arconic was legally obliged to provide the available test data to the BBA?”

Mr Schmidt, through a French translator, replied: “Yes, probably.

“According to the contract, Arconic was supposed to inform the BBA but at the same time that information … could have been obtained differently.

“The information certainly was available and it could have been supplied if it had been requested.”

The witness statement of Claude Wehrle – a technical manager at Arconic who is refusing to give oral evidence to the inquiry, citing a little-used French statute – said in his witness statement the firm regarded the cassette test as a “rogue” result.

He said: “I considered that the BBA would be able to identify the relevant test as having been conducted using a rivet system, and had no reason to doubt that if the BBA had felt it necessary to ask for any other system test reports they would have done so.”

Mr Millett asked Mr Schmidt: “Do you accept as the voice of Arconic that not providing test 5B to the BBA was a deliberate concealment of what Arconic knew to be the true position, namely that the cassette variant of Reynobond 55 PE performed disastrously in a fire?”

Mr Schmidt said: “No, when you say deliberate, that’s too much.”

Asked if it was accidental, he said: “I can’t reply, I can’t answer and I can’t give any qualifications, I can’t know what Claude Wehrle was thinking about or reasoning at the time.”

Asked by Mr Millett if providing only the rivet data to the BBA as representative of the fire performance of the Reynobond PE range amounted to “a misleading half truth”, Mr Schmidt said: “Yes, you can see it like that.”

The inquiry was also shown an email from the BBA to Mr Wehrle which asked for “any additional or missing information you may feel could be helpful to the user/specifier”.

Mr Schmidt agreed with Mr Millett that the “user or specifier would not only find the test 5B useful but in fact absolutely crucial safety information”.

But Mr Schmidt said it was “too strong” to call it “life and death stuff”.

The inquiry continues.