The British Government has strongly criticised executives from an international company who are refusing to come to the UK to give evidence at the official inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.
Stephen Greenhalgh, the minister responsible for building safety, said three executives who were with the French division of Arconic, a US-headquartered company, at the time of the blaze were hiding behind an obscure French law.
“Time for these @arconic executives to step up to the plate + appear before the #GrenfellTower Inquiry rather than hide behind the 1968 French Blocking Statute,” the minister Tweeted.
Company supplied the panels used as cladding
Arconic is the company that manufactured made the polyethylene-filled aluminium composite panels that were used as cladding on the outside of the residential tower block in West London.
When fire broke out in May 2017 the cladding was the main cause of the rapid and dramatic spread of the blaze, which quickly engulfed 24-storey building and killed 72 people. A further 70 sustained injuries.
“The former executives Claude Wehrle and Peter Froehlich, alongside Gwenaëlle Derrendinger, a current employee, are citing the rarely used 53-year-old French blocking statute and are refusing to attend six days of cross-examination due this month. Two UK-based Arconic witnesses will give evidence,” the London-based Guardian newspaper reported.
One executive warned of the possible dangers
“In 2009, Wehrle shared with Arconic colleagues images of a burning tower fitted with similar panels to those it sold to Grenfell ‘to show you how dangerous PE [polyethylene] can be when it comes to architecture’. In 2015, he emailed colleagues: ‘PE is dangerous on facades, and everything should be transferred to fire-resistant as a matter of urgency’,” the newspaper said.
Officials at the inquiry have been trying for months to get the trio to give evidence in Britain, but to no avail.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has also been liaising with its French Government counterpart in an effort to exert pressure.
Inquiry officials reject certain pre-conditions
Another Arconic executive, Claude Schmidt, has said he will only give evidence if the inquiry accepts certain conditions. These conditions have not been publicly disclosed, but inquiry officials have said thye are mostly unacceptable.
Last month Grenfell Tower survivors and families of the deceased staged a protest outside the French Embassy in London at the refusal of the executives to testify.
Arconic has said it is co-operating with the inquiry team, and the current and former executives who have refused to travel to the UK have taken their own private legal advice and made the decision themselves.