THE companies that supplied flammable material for Grenfell Tower have been branded “evil” by a survivor who heard them give evidence.
Staff at French-owned Celotex and Irish firm Kingspan told the public inquiry into the disaster how profits were put ahead of safety.Survivor Joseph John says the companies that supplied flammable material for Grenfell Tower are 'evil'Credit: Joseph John
Employees from cladding company Arconic have refused to even attend the hearing.
Grenfell resident Joseph John, a 29-year-old chef who fled from the 2017 inferno with his baby son Malachi in his arms, told The Sun on Sunday: “I think they are evil. They cared more about money than the residents’ lives.
“I was lucky to escape but my life has been torn to pieces. And they did this to me. They need to pay.
“Hearing about the greed at the inquiry disgusts me. They have no pity for humanity.
“I will never be able to move on until they are brought to justice.”
The fire in the 24-storey West London tower block on June 14, 2017, killed 72 people.The fire in the 24-storey West London tower block broke out on June 14, 2017Credit: Reuters Employees from cladding company Arconic have refused to even attend the Grenfell hearingCredit: Getty Images - Getty
Phase one of the public inquiry, which revealed lives could have been saved if the block was evacuated sooner, focused on cost-cutting carried out by Kensington and Chelsea council.
The current second phase is looking at how the 1970s tower came to be in a condition that allowed the fire to spread.
There have been allegations of “widespread wrongdoing” by the building supply companies, who are accused of rigging safety tests and selling products they knew “were dangerous to life”.
French and UK police are monitoring developments to see if those behind the £8.7million refurbishment of the block in 2016 should face criminal prosecution.
This week, Claude Schmidt, president of Arconic’s French subsidiary, finally agreed to attend the inquiry after pressure from campaigners.
And he accepted the firm “deliberately and dishonestly” misled its customers about the cladding’s safety.
'DANGEROUS TO LIFE'
The company got a product certificate for its Reynobond PE aluminium composite cladding in 2008 by building standards body the British Board of Agrément (BBA) after submitting a successful safety test.
But lead counsel Richard Millett QC claimed Arconic concealed two failed tests.
Schmidt responded saying fire safety testing “wasn’t my priority” — but two Arconic employees told the inquiry they had repeatedly warned this cladding was potentially deadly.
Schmidt also said Arconic did not alert customers to the dangers of its cladding after a tower block fire in Romania in 2009 because nobody died.
Former UK sales manager Deborah French said that in May 2013 there had been talk of withdrawing its polyethylene core material after several high-rise cladding fires in the United Arab Emirates, where they were large suppliers.
But Arconic decided not to, in part because it would have made less money selling the fire-retardant version.The devastating blaze killed 72 peopleCredit: PA:Press Association Phase one of the public inquiry revealed lives could have been saved if the block was evacuated soonerCredit: PA:Press Association The second phase is looking at how the 1970s tower came to be in a condition that allowed the fire to spreadCredit: Getty Images - Getty
Former technical manager Claude Wehrle said the Grenfell cladding “should have been discontinued over ten years ago”.
Wehrle is refusing to give evidence — but last week his emails from 2010 were presented to the inquiry.
In them, he warned colleagues the “shortfall” in the cladding’s performance should be kept “VERY CONFIDENTIAL!!!!”
He later told a customer the cladding would be “protected” in a fire.
But from 2009 he sent emails to colleagues that included photos of fires tearing through buildings fitted with similar cladding.
The part-time fireman sent one in 2016 alleging Arconic got a rating for the cladding “by arranging the system to pass”.
REFUSED TO GIVE EVIDENCE
Two other former employees have refused to give evidence, arguing it would put them at risk of prosecution in France. The French government denies this is the case.
Celotex supplied 95 per cent of the plastic foam insulation used on the refit.
Its product manager, Deborah Berger, was so horrified to discover a safety test had been rigged by using fire-retardant panels to boost performance that she made a note in 2014 stating: “WTF?”
Jonathan Roper, the company’s former assistant product manager, also spoke about dishonest “over-engineering” so its Rs5000 insulation product could pass fire safety tests.
This allowed Celotex to market its combustible rigid foam boards as being safe for use on high-rise buildings.
He said: “I went along with a lot of actions that, looking back, were completely unethical.Claude Schmidt, president of Arconic’s French subsidiary, accepted the firm 'deliberately, dishonestly' misled its customers about safety of claddingCredit: Grenfell Tower Inquiry Kingspan boss Gene Murtagh apologised to staff for 'historical unacceptable conduct and process short-comings'Credit: Times Newspapers Ltd Former technical manager Philip Heath threatened to 'sue the a**e off' a firm who complained about the cladding Former Celotax assistant product manager Jonathan Roper said he 'went along with a lot of actions that, looking back, were completely unethical'Credit: Grenfell Tower Inquiry
“I was 22 or 23, first job. I thought this was standard practice, albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”
Kingspan supplied five per cent of the insulation used.
Tony Millichap, its technical head from 2010 to 2015, said he had no idea its Kooltherm K15 product “burned ferociously” during a safety test.
But emails suggest that Philip Heath, a former technical manager, was aware.
He threatened to “sue the a**e off” one firm if it kept complaining about the cladding.
And in an email about a constructor asking if it was suitable for a high rise, he wrote: “I think [they] are getting me confused with someone who gives a dam [sic]”.
Former Kingspan technical manager Ivor Meredith says he became “embroiled in a deliberate and calculated deceit” to sell dangerous cladding to 240 tower blocks in the UK.
The inquiry heard how he had to “fabricate a story” that the foam panels were safe and complained to his boss: “We are stretching the truth.”
Kingspan had allegedly used a different material to ensure Kooltherm was categorised as appropriate for use in buildings higher than 18 metres.
Some of the technical team said in emails and texts it was a “s**t product, scrap it”.
Gene Murtagh, the firm’s billionaire Irish boss, apologised for the “historical unacceptable conduct and process shortcomings”.
Now the 50-year-old, who made a reported £22million profit selling shares after the blaze, could face the inquiry.
Grenfell survivor Joseph, whose son is now four, said: “Since the fire I haven’t worked. My mental health isn’t up to it. I am still living in temporary accommodation and I am scared.
I thought Grenfell was safe. You imagine your home is safe. Listening to the evidence at the inquiry is terrifying
Grenfell survivor Joseph John
“I thought Grenfell was safe. You imagine your home is safe. Listening to the evidence at the inquiry is terrifying.”
Fellow survivor Edward Daffarn, 57, who is on the Grenfell United committee, said: “These people didn’t treat us like humans. They deserve lengthy jail terms.
“Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan are worse than crooks and killers.
“They were so motivated by greed and profit they did nothing to stop this.
“It is unbelievably painful to listen to the evidence.
“Some of the Arconic witnesses have shown total contempt to the judicial process and have done little more than give ‘no comment’ responses. It fills the bereaved and survivors with an impotent rage.
"We deserve to hear the truth. Those who are refusing to give evidence are nothing but gutless cowards and cheats.”Survivor Edward Daffarn said Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan are 'worse than crooks and killers'Credit: Handout The Grenfell Tower inquiry is due to continue for at least another yearCredit: Getty Images - Getty
Solicitor Graham French, whose firm Russell-Cooke represents a number of survivors and bereaved relatives, told The Sun on Sunday: “Our clients want the truth about the causes of the disaster, and this is coming out as the inquiry progresses.
“And they want justice for themselves and their loved ones and to ensure that an avoidable disaster like this is never repeated.”
The inquiry is due to continue for at least another year, with a report expected to be published months later.
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