Socialist Worker

Grenfell inquiry hears of distorted tests as key firm refuses to testify

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2730

Protesting outside the inquiry in January

Protesting outside the inquiry in January (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard further evidence this week that profit and commercial priorities were more important than safety.

Module Two of Phase Two began last Thursday. It will investigate how the combustible materials that were put on Grenfell were tested, marketed and regulated.

It has already had evidence of corruption and profiteering at the heart of some companies supplying products that proved deadly. The fire in 2017 saw 72 people die.

Leearna, a Grenfell activist, has been protesting outside the inquiry weekly. She told Socialist Worker, “We were not happy that the solicitors for these criminals didn’t have to appear live. They were streaming from their homes and offices.

“And Covid-19 is a poor excuse. There is enough space for seven security guards, but still not for the survivors or bereaved.”

Arconic is the firm that made the flammable aluminium composite material cladding that caused the fire to spread so rapidly. The deadly panels were selected to cut costs.

“We feel absolute rage”, Moyra, a Grenfell activist, told Socialist Worker.

"We believe these are the central villains."

Safety

The inquiry heard that tests took place on the cladding in 2005. But Arconic realised that when the material was in cassette form—to be hung on rails—it failed the fire safety test.

Yet Arconic needed a certificate for the cladding so they could dominate the market. In 2008 they obtained a certificate, but on a “false promise”. The firm did not reveal the danger of the cassette panels.

They also supplied a test report for a fire-resistant version of the product, not the version put on Grenfell.

Arconic knew what they were doing. They described this as “very confidential” and admitted they were “not clean”, back in 2010.

“There is so much suffering left as a result”, Leearna said.

“Arconic targeted countries where they could get around fire safety. They were mendacious in their fight for profit," Moyra added.

Despite their actions, witnesses from Arconic might not give evidence at the inquiry. Witnesses claim that a French law may lead to criminal sanctions if they do.

“We always knew Arconic would be a problem,” Leearna said.

“But Thursday was a massive kick in the teeth. It made us feel so angry.

Grenfell firms try to avoid justice during blaze inquiry
Grenfell firms try to avoid justice during blaze inquiry
  Read More

“They knowingly sold this stuff, and it killed 72 people, including eight children. Come and admit to your failings. They lack any sense of a conscience. Arconic has made $1.4 billion this year alone and they should not still be operating.

“At least Studio E went bankrupt and paid the price for their ineptitude and greed. That’s some kind of justice. But Arconic isn’t suffering.”

The inquiry also heard evidence of the failings of the companies who produced Grenfell’s insulation.

In 2005 Kingspan’s K15 Kooltherm insulation passed a fire test. But the test was made irrelevant a year later because of changes in K15 technology.

The changes meant K15 had “poor performance in fire”. After it was re-tested in 2007, the test was described as a “raging inferno”.

Yet the 2005 test was used to market the K15 product and has been used on thousands of buildings. Kingspan withdrew this test only a week before the inquiry.

Moyra said, “Their fire safety was done through desktop research. They didn’t physically build anything. The one thing they built was used for a steel base, not what Grenfell was made from.

"So many buildings in the country have been allowed to have this cladding. It goes to the heart of issues in society. From regulations to building materials, you see what impact neoliberalism is having.”

Leearna added, “There is no humanity about them at all. It’s all about profiteering”.

And Celotex who provided the majority of the insulation was competing with Kingspan. Bereaved and survivors' counsel Stephanie Barwise told the inquiry that Celotex had displayed a "widespread culture of ignoring compliance",  including "distorting" a full scale fire test.

Leearna said, “We are going to keep protesting weekly outside the inquiry and we have something big planned for December.”

Celotex returns to the inquiry this week. Join the protest, Thu 12 November, 11:30am-1pm. 13 Bishop's Bridge Road, Paddington, London W2 6BU

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