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Grenfell Tower’s cladding supplier says its panels did not make fire inevitable

Arconic said its panels were only one part of an overall cladding system.

The company that supplied the Grenfell Tower cladding panels openly described by industry experts as akin to petrol has claimed they did not make the catastrophe inevitable.

Arconic, in an opening statement submitted to the public inquiry into the blaze, said evidence on the spread of the fire was still incomplete, and that its panels were just one element of an overall cladding system.

It said expert reports had shown proper installation of cavity barriers could have “prevented or significantly slowed” the spread of the fire, and the construction of windows and their openings also had impacted.

An expert report by fire safety engineer Dr Barbara Lane published by the inquiry concluded the Reynobond 55PE rainscreen cladding “contributed to the most rapid of the external fire spread”.

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The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower blaze in which at least 71 people died (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

At least 71 people died after the flames escaped through a fourth four flat window and set alight to the external cladding, before flames rapidly spread up its side and entered further flats.

The company wrote: “It is right to mark that whichever route or routes the fire took, it could have been stopped, or the speed of its passage slowed, had proper consideration been given to the fire engineering implications of the choice of materials, the design of the building and the detailed interrelationships of the construction elements and the actual process of carrying out the refurbishment work.

“We submit that the evidence does not justify the conclusion that the ACM PE cladding panels supplied by the company were anything other than, at most, a contributing feature to the fire.

“The panels did not render inevitable the catastrophe which ensued.”

But Pete Weatherby QC, representing survivors and the bereaved, challenged their position, urging them and other commercial core participants for immediate honesty.

He said: “Arconic, we note in your opening that you said that you wish to do ‘everything possible to avoid exacerbating the suffering’.

“Mr Stein has picked out the phrase that you accept that ‘at most’ the ACM that you supplied was a contributing feature of the fire.

“But in fact there is an even more remarkable proposition in your opening when you say that the panels did not render inevitable the catastrophe that ensued.

“If that were the test, we are all lost.”

While acknowledging Arconic were “not the only villains”, he said the use of their panels was “a key factor in the disaster”.

“Will you acknowledge that now?” he finished.

The ACM cladding on Grenfell comprised of a polyethylene core sandwiches between aluminium sheets.

Arconic said in its opening that the choice of products in an overall system was the responsibility of “those who design the relevant building works and those who carry them out”.

It said: “It would have been obvious to anyone professionally involved in the construction of a building that, by reason of the polyethylene core, this product was not of limited combustibility.”

Earlier on Tuesday a barrister representing survivors and the bereaved said she understood “the ignition of the polyethylene within the cladding panel produces a flaming reaction more quickly than dropping a match into a barrel of petrol”.

Stephanie Barwise also said fires including cladding had become the archetypal form of mass fire disaster”.

Mr Weatherby also called out Celotex and Kingspan, both of which made the insulation used on the tower.

“Yes the products were a little cheaper, and yes they were a little more efficient, but at what cost?” he asked.

Addressing all of the public bodies directly involved in the inquiry, he said: “There is a common theme with public authorities here we say.

“They provide documents and policies and explanations of some of their organisational structure, they express condolences and they are not shy to implicate others, but they are all completely silent on what went wrong in the areas which they were responsible. Now is the time for candour.”

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