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The cladding which fuelled the fire at Grenfell Tower had been used “incorrectly”, a boss at the company which manufactured it has claimed.
Twelve days after the fire which claimed 72 lives, Arconic (AAP) removed its Reynobond 55 product with a PE (polyethylene) core from sale for use on similar buildings, but said it believed the material was “not dangerous”.
Instead, Claude Schmidt, president of the firm’s French arm, said that its panels had been “used incorrectly” with flammable insulation and that it had lost “trust and confidence” that companies elsewhere in the supply chain were “complying with relevant regulatory regimes”.
The inquiry has previously heard that Arconic failed to disclose “disastrous” fire test results and that the type of panel used on the west London block with a cassette fixing performed “spectacularly worse” in fire tests than other options.
In his witness statement to the inquiry – translated into English from its original French – Mr Schmidt explained that the decision was made on June 26 2017 to stop selling the PE-cored product for use on high-rise buildings.
He said: “Such a decision was not made because AAP believed Reynobond PE to be inherently dangerous, nor because there was any prohibition on its sale for use on buildings above a certain height.
“It does, however, have certain characteristics which, if it is used incorrectly, can increase the risk of fire spread.”
He went on: “The company’s assessment, made very quickly after the Grenfell Tower fire, was that its product had been used incorrectly.”
When asked by inquiry Richard Millett QC what they believed to have been incorrect about Reynobond’s use on Grenfell Tower, Mr Schmidt said: “We learned very quickly that it had been combined with an insulating product that was flammable.”
Giving his answers through a translator, he added: “I think at the time that was the essence of our reflection.”
When asked what investigations were done in the 12 days to determine that it had been used incorrectly, Mr Schmidt said: “I can’t describe it in a very precise way”.
Pushed further on whether he had data or reports to back up the assertion, he added: “I would say no I don’t think so and most of the assessment were based on public information that was published day by day.”
The PE panels came in two variants – cassette and rivet – but the differences between their fire performance was “very great” and the cassette form performed “spectacularly worse” in a fire test in 2004, the inquiry heard last week.
Colleagues in Arconic had also raised concerns about the safety of the PE products a number of years previously.
As well as PE, Arconic also made a fire-resistant (FR) version of its Reynobond product, and technical manager Claude Wehrle said in an email in 2015: “PE is DANGEROUS on facades and everything should be transferred to FR as a matter of urgency.”
The email went on: “This opinion is technical and anti-commercial it seems”, followed by a smiley face.
Mr Wehrle is refusing to give oral evidence to the inquiry, citing a little-used French statute.
Coming to the end of his evidence, Mr Schmidt was also given the opportunity to reflect on his role and admitted he did not “sufficiently well master technical support in the course of sales”.
He described it as “a criticism that I make of myself”, and added: “Probably sales technical support should have been in two parts, two sections.
“And the part which really associated with fire tests et cetera I think it should really have been placed within technical services in order to make sure that the tasks were more clearly attributed.”
Mr Schmidt concluded: “I believe that I simply didn’t have the presence of mind to realise that this service was based on two very different axis and they could be separated.”
In 2019, the chair of the Grenfell Inquiry panel, Sir Martin Moore Bick, concluded that the “principal reason” the flames shot up the building at such speed was the combustible cladding with polyethylene cores which acted as a “source of fuel”.
The inquiry continues.