Arconic allowed post-Grenfell certificate for cladding to repeat false fire test claim

The company that made Grenfell’s cladding allowed a reissued version of the UK certificate for its product to repeat a false claim that it met European fire standards, even after the fire.

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Claude Schmidt gives evidence via video link (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Claude Schmidt gives evidence via video link (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
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The company that made Grenfell’s cladding allowed a reissued version of the UK certificate for its product to repeat a false claim that it met European fire standards, even after the fire #UKhousing

The inquiry has previously heard that Arconic did not disclose tests carried out between 2004 and 2014 which showed that its polyethylene-cored cladding panels met Euroclass E when bent into ‘cassettes’ and Euroclass C when fitted to a wall with rivets.

Today, new emails and documents covering the period after the fire were disclosed. They showed that the firm failed to release these to the British Board of Agrement (BBA) even after the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, and allowed a fresh certificate to continue to falsely state that the panels were graded ‘B’.

Richard Millett, counsel to the inquiry, said that the BBA – which had first published a certificate covering the panels in 2007 – only learned about the full details of the tests when they were disclosed by the inquiry.

In his witness statement Claude Schmidt, president of the French arm of the company AAP SAS, said that Arconic halted the sale of the product for high rises from 26 July. He said this was done only because it had “certain characteristics” that “if used incorrectly can increase the risk of a fire spread”.


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But it wrote to the BBA saying it was “not discontinuing the production and sale of Reynobond PE [the product used on Grenfell], however, because it has non-high rise and other uses”.

It was then sent a redrafted BBA certificate covering the product, which contained a new clause saying it should not be used higher than 18m, and said it applied only to the riveted system – the less dangerous option with regard to fire.

However, in a list of the tests carried out on the product, it said the standard polyethylene-cored version of the product had obtained a Euroclass B.

“That’s a very significant and obvious misstatement, isn’t it?” asked Mr Millett.

“Yes, I think it’s an error, it is very simply a mistake,” replied Mr Schmidt, speaking through a translator.

He said that by this point the company had stopped the production of PE in order to “standardise its process” and therefore there was no need for the sentence to have appeared at all.

“But Mr Schmidt, that’s a not a very complete answer, is it?” asked Mr Millett. “What about somebody who wanted to know whether the Reynobond 55 PE they had already put on their building and they went to look at this certificate, do you accept such a person would be misled into thinking PE had a Class B when in fact it did not?”

“Yes,” replied Mr Schmidt.

Later emails show the BBA seeking fire test data from Arconic in March 2018, after a journalist at the BBC alerted the BBA to serious test failures involving the product. But the firm did not provide these tests, and Mr Schmidt said this was on the basis of legal advice.

Eventually, in May 2019, the BBA wrote to the firm saying it was withdrawing the certificate “as we have still not received the key technical data that we have requested”.

Mr Millett asked Mr Schmidt: “Do you know that the way that the BBA discovered all the test data was through [inquiry expert witness] Dr Barbara Lane’s supplementary report to this inquiry?”

“No, I did not know that,” replied Mr Schmidt.

Earlier, the inquiry had seen an email from the firm’s technical manager Claude Wehrle, sent in June 2015, which said he believed that the cladding product was “dangerous on facades” and should be transferred to a more fire-safe product “as a matter of urgency”.

“This opinion is technical and anti-commercial, it seems,” he wrote, adding a smiley face.

schmidt add i

The email (above) was in response to queries from other employees of the company about the correct fire rating of the product.

Asked if he knew that Mr Wehrle believed it was dangerous before this email was sent, Mr Schmidt said he did.

“If it was dangerous, why were you still selling it?” Mr Millett asked.

“Well, I go back to something I have already said… There are lots of products on the market which are sold every day and maintain dangers or risks and these risks can be contained in various ways,” he replied.

“Was it that Mr Wehrle was a lone voice in Arconic who was trying to tell senior management that PE was dangerous on facades, but he was being ignored for commercial reasons?” asked Mr Millett.

“No,” replied Mr Schmidt.

“Did you dismiss Mr Wehrle’s warning on the basis that he was a prophet without honour in his own country?” asked Mr Millett.

“I don’t really understand that saying,” said Mr Schmidt.

The inquiry also saw an email exchange with the American parent company, in which Diana Perreiah asked for fire ratings of the products being sold by AAP SAS in June 2015.

Mr Wehrle responded with a table that listed the PE-cored ACM as Euroclass C to E and noted that the maximum building height it could be used on was between 8m and 12m.

At the conclusion of his evidence, which has run over five days, Mr Schmidt was asked what he would do differently if he could go over the period in question again.

He replied that he would seek to achieve greater separation of the firm’s technical and sales teams.

The inquiry continues.

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Module one

Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry

After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points

Click here to read the full story

Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?

Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means

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Week three: Architects of misfortune

This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points

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Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’

The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports

Click here to read the full story

Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment

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Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’

Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon

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Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’

Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence

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Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’

Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks

Click here to read the full story

Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’

This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points

Click here to read the full story

Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor

Click here to read the full story

Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’

With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points

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Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’

With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report

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Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’

With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports

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Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’

This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’

Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps

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Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’

This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps

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Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment

Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block

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Module two

Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’

The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports

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Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’

As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings

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Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story

Click here to read the full story

Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’

This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’

The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’

In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’

This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’

The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.

Click here to read the full story

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