CLAUDE SCHMIDT, president of Arconic that made the Grenfell Tower cladding, has said it was not his ‘priority’ to understand fire safety tests and certificates.
He admitted to the inquiry into the fire that he only learned about a key British fire safety standard after the disaster.
The inquiry also heard claims the French firm ‘arranged’ for some fire tests to pass.
Arconic is being investigated for not informing a British standards board about failed tests.
Arconic manufactured the cladding panels in France and the product was never put through the standard test widely used in the UK construction industry.
Schmidt was asked by the inquiry’s lead counsel Richard Millett QC why, when he became managing director in 2007, he did not ‘seek to understand thoroughly the testing and certification which supported that product’.
He responded: ‘Because it wasn’t my priority.’
Millett asked: ‘Why wasn’t it your priority?’
Schmidt said he thought these words were ‘a bit too strong’.
Arconic was awarded a product certificate for its cladding in the UK by the British Board of Agrément (BBA) in 2008.
This said Arconic’s Reynobond PE cladding panel ‘may be regarded’ as having met the Class 0 standard.
Across the UK, and at Grenfell, cladding suppliers believed that if the cladding had a BBA certificate and was Class 0, it could be used on tall buildings.
But the inquiry heard on Tuesday that the standard British test had not, in fact, been carried out. The French arm of Arconic relied, instead, on European tests that were similar.
On top of that, there were a series of issues with the tests which were done.
Some versions of the panel, when it was shaped into ‘cassettes’ or boxes, had ‘failed spectacularly,’ Millett said.
Arconic did not tell the BBA, so the product certificate remained in use right up to the decision to use the cladding on Grenfell Tower.
A statement from Claude Wehrle, a technical manager who worked for Arconic, said the company believed the test was a ‘rogue result’.
The inquiry chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, asked Schmidt to respond to the view that Arconic was ‘irrational and irresponsible not to carry out further tests’.
Schmidt responded: ‘Yes … extra tests should have been carried out.’
When another version of the cladding was put through the European test in 2005 it was given a Class B rating, on a scale where A1 is the best and F is the worst. This meant it could be used on high-rise buildings.
But on Tuesday, the inquiry was shown an email 11 years later in which Wehrle said the Class B rating had been achieved ‘by “arranging” the system to pass’.
Wehrle, a French national, has refused to come to the inquiry to give evidence, because of legal advice he says he has received.
When asked how Wehrle might have ‘arranged’ the system to pass, Schmidt said: ‘I don’t have an answer.’