Previous Arconic executive informs Grenfell inquiry she understood cladding

The executive who sold the cladding used on Grenfell Tower knew it could burn but did not inform clients, she has actually admitted to the public questions into the fire.

Debbie French, the UK sales supervisor for Arconic from 2007 to 2014, stated the business provided the more flammable variation of the panels by default in a marketing strategy that acknowledged a fire-retardant version that “significantly increases fire resistance” was less likely to protect contracts on price.

The easier to burn variation of Arconic’s Reynobond product, which was the primary cause of the quick spread of the fire at Grenfell that claimed 72 lives, expense less. It utilized polyethylene [PE] sandwiched between 5mm thick aluminium sheets and French said she knew it “was and is combustible”.

During cross-examination, Richard Millett QC, counsel to the query, asked the executive: “Did you ever discuss to your consumers, in terms, that PE would burn?”

” I do not recall particularly discussing that to them,” she said. “If I had been asked the question I would have explained it.”

She stated she had not seen the structure regulations guidance on fire security or realised there were different rules for tall buildings such as the 24-storey Grenfell Tower.

” My understanding on the technical side was extremely minimal,” she stated. “Working for an organisation like Alcoa [as Arconic was known], it didn’t even enter my head, the question of whether it was or wasn’t ideal. They were a huge name company and for that reason it was all completely appropriate for what it needed to do in the UK.”

But the questions heard the business sought to “conceal” distinctions in between the PE and its more fire-retardant variation. The query saw a report from a 2004 fire test in a French lab of the panels fabricated into a cassette type, as released at Grenfell, that had to be stopped after 850 seconds since it was producing excessive heat. Millett stated this was “ignored” by the company.

French said she had actually never ever been told about the failure but agreed it was a “very major omission” and made a subsequent certificate detailing fire performance released by the construction industry approvals body, the British Board of Agrément (BBA), “considerably deceptive” for her clients.

The query likewise heard how Claude Wehrle, Arconic’s technical manager, bought French not to release to clients information about the difference in between the polyethylene-filled panels and the fire-retardant version.

When French asked Wehrle if she could share a document about the differences between the products with Arup, a prospective client, he replied by email: “OH MY LORD!!! Where did you get that from??? For sure you’re NOT permitted to diffuse to the consumer those files.”

He informed her to instead talk about the various fire categories gotten by Arconic through the BBA. This BBA file stated that the panels “might be regarded as having class 0 surface area”, a step of fire spread.

Millett said there had been no tests on the PE core panels that revealed they met class 0 under British standards. French said she did not know this.

Wehrle, who worked for Arconic until just recently, is among three present and previous employees refusing to address provide evidence to the questions. They are claiming they risk prosecution under an obscure French law known as the obstructing statute. The French federal government has said it does not think it applies but only French courts can supply immunity.

Millett said Wehrle, Peter Froehlich and Gwenaëlle Derrendinger were not working together despite intervention “at the highest level in between the British and the French governments”. They are expected to be “empty chaired”, with time most likely to be reserved for essential concerns that they must response to exist.

The questions continues.

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