Grenfell Inquiry: Cladding firm 'did not spell out dangers' after previous fire

Tap above to watch video report by Rags Martel

A multinational company whose cladding was used on Grenfell Tower did not alert customers to the dangers of one of its products following a 2009 tower block fire because nobody died in the fire, its president said.

Claude Schmidt, president of Arconic’s French arm, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry the firm did not warn about the use of polyethylene (PE) panels, despite being alerted to a fire in Bucharest, Romania, which a senior colleague said showed “how dangerous PE can be when it comes to architecture”.

PE panels were later fitted on the Grenfell high-rise block in west London, which caught fire in June 2017, resulting in the deaths of 72 people.

Giving evidence to the inquiry through an interpreter on Thursday, Mr Schmidt said he did not think Arconic was responsible for the panels on the Bucharest building, but admitted he was aware of the possible dangers of PE in a fire, and regarded the matter as “important”.

Image of fire damage to building shown to inquiry Credit: Grenfell Inquiry

He told the inquiry: “As far as we knew, there had been no injury.

“We knew the product was used very widely and very generally.”

Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: “Is the reason why Arconic took no steps to do anything internally with (the product) because it only affected the outside of the building, there was no loss of life or injury, and it was a widely used product?

“Have I got your evidence right?”

Mr Schmidt replied: “Yes.”

Claude Schmidt, president of Arconic’s French arm Credit: Grenfell Inquiry

Mr Millett asked: “Is personal injury really an appropriate measure by which fire safety of (the product) should be judged?”

Mr Schmidt said: “It is one of the elements with regard to the evaluation, yes.”

He added that he did not know why the company did not put out advice to customers about the potential danger of using PE.

He also conceded he did not establish training systems within Arconic about the usage and dangers of PE on high-rise buildings following the Bucharest blaze.

The inquiry previously heard evidence from Mr Schmidt that the firm was “legally obliged” to share the 2004 test failed “5B” data for its Reynobond PE cassette product with certifying authorities, and agreed it was a matter of “absolutely crucial safety information”.

The cassette system, as used on Grenfell, burned much faster and released around seven times as much heat and three times the rate of smoke as the riveted version of the same product, he said.

Emails marked “highly confidential” and shared between senior staff – but not Mr Schmidt – in 2010 acknowledged the cassette product did not pass the “B” test.

Mr Millett said: “Do you accept that Arconic through Mr Wehrle (Claude Wehrle, a technical manager at Arconic, who is refusing to give oral evidence to the inquiry) knew that… people were being misled by the claimed fire certification for cassette?”

Mr Schmidt replied: “Yes.”

Mr Millett said: “And looking at this email, March 2010, that Arconic knows of a shortfall between the claim for cassette and the actual classification?”

Mr Schmidt replied: “Yes. I can’t deny what this email says.”

But he said he was not aware how the deception could be carried out on his watch.

The inquiry continues.