A former boss at the firm that made flammable cladding for Grenfell Tower is a fireman in France, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Claude Wehrle offers fire safety advice to families in his role as a part-time fire brigade lieutenant in the picturesque town of Colmar.
But he is refusing to give evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, using an obscure French law that he claims prevents him from taking the stand.
He is considered a crucial witness because he warned the cladding was dangerous six years before 72 people died when the tower caught fire in June 2017.
Claude Wehrle (pictured) shows off a fire command post. He was then a technical manager for the French arm of cladding supplier Arconic, whose annual revenue is £11billion
He was then a technical manager for the French arm of cladding supplier Arconic, whose annual revenue is £11billion.
After leaving in January he now works as deputy technical director for construction firm Rinaldi Structal, which also designs building facades.
Mr Wehrle, a father of two in his late forties, has also been a part-time fireman for 28 years.
Pictures obtained by the Mail show him giving a family with young children a tour of his mobile command post a year before the Grenfell tragedy.
Another shows him helping a child climb a fire engine ladder on the 190th anniversary of Colmar’s fire corps.
Speaking from his home in the village of Eguisheim, north-east France, he insisted he would not give evidence, adding: ‘I don’t see what it can bring to those unfortunate people. I did my job in my country and that’s it.
He is considered a crucial witness because he warned the cladding was dangerous six years before 72 people died when the tower caught fire in June 2017 (pictured)
‘I am really upset by this. It brings me great, great sadness. Nevertheless, it is a legal decision and I follow the legal advice.’ Asked who advised him to stay away from the inquiry, Mr Wehrle said it was his lawyer and lawyers representing Arconic.
He added: ‘My wife died two months before Grenfell of breast cancer and really it was very difficult for me.
‘It’s sad. It’s more than sad, due to all those people who died. But it’s not my decision.’
It was put to him that as a free man he could attend the inquiry if he wished to. He replied: ‘It’s not a question of being a free man or not, it’s a question linked to other legal decisions by my lawyer and Arconic’s lawyers.’
Mr Wehrle and three other Arconic witnesses have been summonsed to appear before the inquiry next month.
A holiday home (pictured) in Eguisheim, north-east France, that Mr Wehrle lets to tourists
He and one other are refusing to attend, while two more have not decided. They claim they could be prosecuted under ‘the blocking statute’, a 1968 law that stops company data being shared in proceedings abroad.
It has been used once in 52 years, and the French embassy in London has told the Foreign Office the law does not stop witnesses appearing at the inquiry.
Survivors and the bereaved say their testimony could be key to unlocking what went wrong with Grenfell’s refurbishment.
In emails to colleagues disclosed to the London inquiry, Mr Wehrle wrote the cladding performed badly in fire safety tests and ‘should have been discontinued over ten years ago’. In an internal email from 2011, he said the fire rating fell from class B to E and was ‘unsuitable for use on building facades’.
From 2009 he sent colleagues a string of emails with pictures of fires on blocks fitted with similar cladding to Grenfell.
And in early 2016, he emailed them about a blaze close to a building covered in flammable cladding, saying it was lucky the wind did not change direction.
By then the panels were already being fitted to Grenfell.
The inquiry has concluded the cladding was the primary cause of the spread of the fire through the west London block.
Natasha Elcock, chairman of the campaign group Grenfell United, said: ‘It’s unbelievable that Claude is a firefighter, having worked for a company that creates flammable cladding. It’s completely hypocritical.
‘These excuses are pathetic. It’s not up to him to decide if his testimony is important. It’s his duty as a human being to speak out. He is causing us more hurt and pain by refusing to come.
‘Our message to Claude is, ‘Come to the inquiry. Families who lost loved ones deserve to hear the truth from you. Ignore the lawyers, listen to your own morals’. The truth won’t bring our loved ones back, but it might bring us a little peace. We are owed that.’ The hearings will resume on January 11.