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London's Grenfell Tower was a death trap wrapped in 'petrol', inquiry hears

LONDON (Reuters) - London’s Grenfell Tower, where a huge fire killed 71 people a year ago, had been fitted during a recent refurbishment with cladding containing a material as flammable as petrol, a public inquiry heard on Tuesday.

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The Grenfell Tower fire, Britain’s deadliest on domestic premises since World War Two, is the subject of both the inquiry and a separate police investigation which could result in criminal charges.

Completed in 1974, Grenfell Tower was a 24-storey social housing block owned by the local authority of the west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It was refurbished between 2012 and 2016, and destroyed by fire on June 14, 2017.

Danny Friedman, a lawyer representing some of the survivors, told the inquiry the refurbishment had turned Grenfell Tower into a “death trap”.

According to analyses carried out for the inquiry by fire safety experts, the blaze started on the fourth floor, ignited the cladding that covered the surface of the tower and spread up the facade to the top floor within half an hour.

The cladding, a product called Reynobond PE made by U.S. firm Arconic, was made out of aluminium with a polyethylene core.

“Our understanding is that the ignition of the polyethylene within the cladding panel produces a flaming reaction more quickly than dropping a match into a barrel of petrol,” Stephanie Barwise, another lawyer representing survivors, told the inquiry.

In an accompanying written statement, she referred to marketing materials by a distributor of Arconic products which likened Reynobond PE to petrol and urged customers to opt for another, non-combustible type of cladding.

“Would you want to wrap your building in petrol?” the marketing material asked.

In its own written statement to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, Arconic said it had not been its responsibility to determine whether or not Reynobond PE was safe to use on the building.

“The Company was a manufacturer which supplied a product to purchasers,” Arconic’s statement said.

“It was for others to decide whether and how the product would be used, and to ensure that the specification, design, fabrication and installation of the product complied with any applicable regulatory regime.”

The statement echoed similar documents submitted to the inquiry by other companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, which all sought to minimise their responsibilities.

Barwise criticised the attitude of the companies, calling it an “inhumane” response to the suffering of victims and survivors.

“Despite their words of condolence to the victims, these corporates have no desire to assist this inquiry,” she said.

“The corporate silence deprives the families of the degree of resolution and understanding to which they are entitled and has only served to increase their pain and uncertainty,” she added.

Editing by Stephen Addison