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Grenfell Inquiry: Cladding firm continued overseas sales despite blazes in the Middle East

TOPSHOT - Fire rips through Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a huge blaze on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said "a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries", including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Fire rips through Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a huge blaze on June 14, 2017 in west London. [DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images]

Grenfell cladding manufacturer did not stop selling highly combustible panels despite being linked to a series of fires in the Middle East, because it was more profitable not to, the New Arab reported.

Before the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, West London which killed 72 residents of the high-rise block of flats, cladding manufacturer Arconic had discussed withdrawing the highly flammable polyethylene-based panels from the market, former sales manager Deborah French told the UK's official Grenfell Inquiry.

French said: "They used to sell tens and tens and tens of thousands of square metres of that stuff every month," she said of the stacks of cladding sold to the UAE.

A 2013 cladding-related fire the city of Sharjah in the UAE was previously described as a "towering inferno", and allegedly "roared up the side of the building". Witnesses decribed one fire as akin to a "roman candle going up" and described scenes of burning debris hurtling towards the ground. No deaths were reported.

These fires were linked to previous fires in 2012 in Dubai and Sharjah, in which the buildings became engulfed in flames in a similar manner.

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The company allegedly knew as far back as 2015 that the cladding panels being used in the Grenfell project was highly flammable, but chose to remain quiet about it.

French claimed that cladding rival Alucobond had been considering withdrawing these flammable panels from the market, but Arconic had decided not to, as selling exclusively fire retardant panels would have made less money.

The validity UK safety certificate for the cladding in question presented to customers was also discussed, as it claimed to have a class 0 rating for flammability, the safest on the UK scale, in comparison to the European fire classification report which had scored an incredibly low "E". A fact, the inquiry heard, that was not disclosed.

In September when grilled by the Grenfell Inquiry, sales director Geof Blades at the company CEP, which worked with Arconic to cut the panels to size, said that a huge fire that ripped through a tower block in the UAE in 2013 had not rung any "alarm bells" over the safety of the cladding.

72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in July 2017, after being told to stay indoors as per safety protocol, which had not been changed since the building's "regeneration" in 2015.

It was revealed during the time leading up to the fire that Grenfell residents had repeatedly raised the issue of fire safety with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, but their concerns fell on deaf ears, even earning them a cease and desist letter from a council lawyer after the fight for tougher safety measures was chronicled on a blog.

The inquiry into the deadly fire continues.

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