Seller did not know ‘how combustible’ cladding was until after Grenfell fire

Caitlin Doherty, PA

A member of staff responsible for selling the type of flammable cladding panels used on Grenfell Tower has told an inquiry he did not realise how combustible the material was until after the fatal blaze.

Vince Meakins said told lawyers he “never would have been selling or involved with a product if (he) knew how combustible it was” when he gave evidence on Thursday.

Mr Meakins took on the role of UK sales manager for Arconic in 2015.

The company made and sold the aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen with a polyethylene plastic core (PE) that was mounted on the west London building.

When asked by inquiry lawyer Kate Grange QC when he became aware the material was flammable, Mr Meakins said: “I think for certain after the Grenfell fire, I think everybody was more aware of how combustible the PE really is.

“But up until that time I knew it was a standard core but really didn’t know it was as combustible as it turned out to be.”

People at the Grenfell Memorial Community Mosaic at the base of the tower block (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
People at the Grenfell Memorial Community Mosaic at the base of the tower block (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Asked if he knew whether it was combustible in any way before the fire in June 2017, Mr Meakins responded: “I was unaware that it was combustible in a sense where it would fuel in a fire if you like, but I’m not very technically minded so in a way I knew it was a PE core, a standard core, I knew it was some kind of plastic, but I didn’t realise it was as combustible as what it’s turned out to be.”

He later added: “If I for any reason thought that it would have been a very combustible material or a combustible material then I would have asked questions to why we were selling it at all.”

As well as the PE product, Arconic also made a fire-resistant cored (FR) alternative.

Earlier this week, the inquiry heard how the flammable product made the company around a third more in profit than the FR.

Documents shown to the inquiry on Wednesday showed that the company, formerly known as Alcoa, had a profit margin of around five to six euro for every square metre of FR material it sold around the time of the Grenfell project.

This margin increased to seven to eight euro per square metre of the PE product.

The figures, from the witness statement of Arconic’s president Claude Schmidt, were shown as Deborah French, who had the role of UK’s sale manager before Mr Meakins, gave evidence for the second day.

The inquiry will continue next week with more evidence from witnesses related to Arconic.

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