Grenfell Tower Fire Whistleblowers Caught in Legal Limbo

It has been two-and-a-half years since London’s Grenfell Tower went up in flames, killing 72 men, women and children. Draped in flammable insulation, the 24-story public housing project ignited shortly after midnight on June 14, 2017 and burned for three days. Instructed to “stay put” in their apartments until help arrived, residents rapidly perished as the plastic insulation erupted into flames, channeled fire around the entire building, and turned Grenfell into a gigantic torch.

“They covered the building in fuel,” journalist and activist Daniel Renwick told me at the somber disaster site in London’s North Kensington neighborhood a week after the fire. The “fuel” was a layer of flammable polyethylene cladding that local officials installed on the building’s surface – rather than spending an additional £293,000 for a more fire-retardant alternative. This insulation since has been discovered in dozens of apartment building and other structures throughout the UK.

Residents had warned local officials about fire hazards in the 40-year-old high-rise for years. “Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord,” the Grenfell Action Group cautioned six months before the fire. “They can’t say that they haven’t been warned!”

The formal investigation of the tragedy by UK officials is continuing. The inquiry, however, is being distracted by a bizarre standoff involving France, the U.S. company that manufactured the insulation, and a well-connected international law firm.

Would-be whistleblower Claude Wehrle, who worked in France for Pittsburgh-based engineering company Arconic, says he fears cooperating with UK officials, the BBC reported last month. Wehrle cited a French law that reportedly bans people from revealing commercial information in judicial or administrative proceedings in other countries. The BBC reported that at least one other Arconic employee is holding out.

There is more to the story. Wehrle says powerhouse London law firm DLA Piper, which is representing Arconic and its current employees, has been influencing his decisions. “DLA Piper is handling everything,” the BBC quoted Wehrle as saying. “Everything has to go through them.” The BBC and CBS News reportedly found e-mails suggesting DLA Piper was handling legal approaches to Wehrle.

Moreover, in an e-mail to colleagues, Wehrle said Arconic’s concerns about the performance of the insulation were something “we have to keep as VERY CONFIDENTIAL!!!!!”

Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman died in the fire, wrote to the French Embassy in London, “We need these people to come to the [UK] and tell the truth. It’s in the interest of public safety. Thousands of people are living in homes with the material that caused the spread of the fire and caused the deaths of their families. They must come and tell the truth so we make sure that this never happens again.”

Note: If you have new or additional information about the Grenfell Tower fire, please e-mail Whistleblowing International or call (+49) 176 630 94993 (WhatsApp).

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