Further emails from July 2010 then showed a Portugese company asking Ms Moyses for the fire classification specifically for a cassette system. At first, she resisted providing it, before forwarding the email to Mr Wehrle.
“Isa,” he replied. “It’s hard to make a note about this… Because we’re not ‘clean’.”
He then sent the client a letter, dated 5 July 2010, which claimed that riveted system represented the “worst case” and said the cassette would perform better because the flammable core is “protected”.
This was a total contradiction of the testing information Arconic had available. “Do you accept that in telling [the client] rivet was worse than cassette in terms of fire performance, Mr Wehrle lied to him?” asked Mr Millett.
“Yes,” replied Mr Schmidt. Mr Wehrle is among the Arconic witnesses refusing to give evidence.
Mr Schmidt was then shown emails which showed the Reynobond panels were retested in 2011, with the riveted system once more obtaining a ‘B’.
But the cassette variant failed so seriously, the test was stopped before the end, meaning it was classifed ‘F’ without even being given a formal report.
“Oops,” wrote Mr Wehrle in an email sent to two colleagues. “The classification of PE in cassettes following the test this morning is ‘F’ !!!”
Mr Schmidt denied that Mr Wehrle’s language showed that he was “making light” of the issue. “If there was any shred or small piece of a view remaining in Arconic that the [test on cassettes] from 2005 was a ‘rogue’ then this 2011 test dispelled that?” asked Mr Millett.
“Yes,” replied Mr Schmidt. Following a further test in October 2011, the panel was given an ‘E’ grade.
The inquiry then showed Mr Schmidt minutes of a meeting between Mr Wehrle, and the representative of a competitor, 3A, which made Alucobond branded panels.
The minutes of this meeting note that the “evolution of fire regulation will put PE out of the market in the coming month[s]”. But they add: “For the moment, even if we know that PE material in cassette has a bad behaviour exposed to fire, we can still work with national regulations who are not as restrictive.”
Asked if this was the strategy Arconic pursued following this meeting, Mr Schmidt said the firm continued to “respond to the needs of the clients”.
Further emails show that in June 2012, Mr Schmidt was invited to a meeting with Mr Wehrle to discuss the “serious issue” of the fire classification of Reynobond PE. “We would like to hear your opinion on the position to be held on the market,” he wrote. Mr Schmidt declined the meeting.
Asked why, he explained that he was “overloaded with work”. According to Mr Wehrle’s witness statement the pair had a “brief discussion” and agreed to remove the Euroclass B rating from its marketing material.
Mr Schmidt said he could not remember if this discussion took place, however, documents show the Euroclass B rating disappearing from Arconic’s 2012 brochure, having been present in 2010. But nothing was added about the Class E grade which it had now achieved.
“Do you accept that it was a dangerous practice to leave it to the customer to find out that the cassette variant of the product had a Class E rather than volunteer to tell them?” asked Mr Millett.
“It was risky,” said Mr Schmidt.
In the UK, a Euroclass B rating was one of two classifications which could permit a cladding panel to be used on a building above 18m.
The other was the national rating of ‘Class 0’ which was easier to obtain. A previous Reynobond PE brand had a test securing this rating, but the one made in France was never tested to this standard.
However, a certificate from respected third-party certifier the BBA suggested it met both Class 0 and Euroclass B. The BBA was never given the reports of the failed tests.
Mr Schmidt will continue giving evidence on Monday.