Salesman says he 'never would have sold' Grenfell-style cladding if risks were known

11 February 2021, 19:57 | Updated: 11 February 2021, 20:00

Many involved in buying and selling flammable cladding claimed not to realise the dangers
Many involved in buying and selling flammable cladding claimed not to realise the dangers. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A sales manager who sold cladding similar to what was used on Grenfell Tower has said he "never would have been selling or involved" if he realised how flammable it was.

Vince Meakins told lawyers at the inquiry into the tragedy that he did not realise how combustible the material was until after the blaze.

He said he "never would have been selling or involved with a product if (he) knew how combustible it was" when he gave evidence on Thursday.

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Mr Meakins took on the role of UK sales manager for Arconic in 2015 - the company which made and sold the aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen with a polyethylene plastic core (PE) that was mounted on the west London building.

Many were, or claimed to be, unaware of the dangers of the material which set ablaze in June 2017 and took the lives on 72 people.

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."

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."

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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.

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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.