Socialist Worker

Tories show contempt for tenants as Grenfell inquiry reopens

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2742

The Grenfell fire in 2017 spread due to flammable cladding

The Grenfell fire in 2017 spread due to flammable cladding (Pic: Guy Smallman)


In the same week that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry restarted, the Tories have promised an extra £3.5 billion to remove unsafe cladding from England’s high rise buildings.

Tory housing secretary Robert Jenrick said flammable materials would be removed from buildings over 18 metres high at no cost to leaseholders.

After the Grenfell fire in 2017 which spread due to flammable cladding, thousands of other tower blocks were found to have similar material. Only 30 percent of private sector flats have had the cladding removed.

But Jenrick’s announcement misses the point. The criminal companies who have made and sold the deadly products should be lumped with the bill.

Grenfell was predominantly social housing. But residents were ignored when they raised concern about the building’s insufficient fire safety measures.

Ministers also said in May 2018 that they would fund the removal of ACM cladding—which was on Grenfell—from high rise social housing.

Of the 156 social housing blocks affected by the ACM cladding, only 58 percent had it remedied at the end of 2020. And 66 buildings were yet to have the cladding removal process completed.

On the buildings that have had cladding removed, many have become damp and mouldy because it’s not been replaced.

The Tories have been forced to move, not out of concern for working class people, but because some of their own supporters are affected.

Profit 

The inquiry into the Grenfell fire restarted via Zoom on Monday. It heard more evidence that the companies responsible for the fire misled the market for profit.

Debbie French, UK sales manager for Arconic—the company who made and sold the deadly cladding used on Grenfell—was on the stand. She admitted the company used the flammable version of the cladding panels by “default”. This is because the fire proof version would be less likely to secure a contract due to price.

French said she knew Arconic’s Reynobond polyethylene cladding “was and is flammable”.

When asked if she’d explained it to the buyer, she replied, “I don’t recall specifically explaining that to them”.

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She also agreed that the classification of the panels was “significantly misleading”. A certificate from the British Board of Agrément stated Reynobond “may be regarded as having a Class 0 surface”.

This is the requirement for external surfaces on walls above 18 metres. But only a fire resistant version of Reynobond had passed the tests—the flammable PE version installed on Grenfell had not.

Three current and former employees of Arconic are refusing to give evidence to the inquiry, claiming they risk prosecution under an obscure French law. But they are avoiding responsibility.

On Monday the inquiry also heard from Philip Heath, technical manager at insulation firm Kingspan. Their flammable K15 insulation, also stuck on Grenfell, was considered to be of only “limited combustibility”.

“FANBLOODYTASTIC” was the reaction of Heath in an email. A test on the material was earlier described as a “raging inferno”.

These companies should be made to pay for the horrors they have caused—because they put profit before the safety of residents.

The Grenfell inquiry into the death of 72 people continues.


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