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Cladding for Grenfell Tower was cheaper, more flammable option

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Exclusive: Omnis Exteriors asked to supply cladding £2 cheaper a square metre than fire-resistant type, investigation finds

Rob Davies, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Ian Sample

Material used in the cladding that covered the Grenfell Tower was the cheaper, more flammable version of the two available options, an investigation of the supply chain has confirmed.

Omnis Exteriors manufactured the aluminium composite material (ACM) used in the cladding, a company director, John Cowley, confirmed to the Guardian.

He also said Omnis had been asked to supply Reynobond PE cladding, which is £2 cheaper per square metre than the alternative Reynobond FR, which stands for “fire resistant” to the companies that worked on refurbishing Grenfell Tower.

“We supplied components for a system created by the design and build team on that project,” said Cowley.

Harley Facades confirmed it had installed the panels bought from Omnis in the work it performed on Grenfell Tower.

Omnis sold ACM cladding to Harley Facades, which was responsible for installing it.

Construction firm Rydon Maintenance was the lead contractor on the project but sub-contracted elements of the work to smaller companies, including Harley.

White cladding on Grenfell Tower. The supplier said it had been asked for Reynobond PE rather than FR – fire resistant Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

CEP is owned by Omnis Exteriors, which describes itself as a “leading UK manufacturer and supplier of exterior building products and systems”.

Its website states: “With almost 400 multi-storey projects completed, you know that you are in good hands.”

The website also says Omnis manufactures cladding at a workshop in St Helens and has supplied dozens of building projects around the country.

It reported a profit of £1.2m last year, the same year in which the ACM it supplied was installed on Grenfell Tower.

The company also paid a dividend of £950,000 to its sole shareholder, an investment group specialising in construction companies called Xerxes Equity.

The chairman of Xerxes and its largest shareholder is the corporate grandee Tony Rice, who is a former chief executive of the telecoms multinational Cable & Wireless and is also a trustee of the housing charity Shelter.

German construction companies have been banned from using plastic-filled cladding, such as Reynobond PE, on towers more than 22 metres high since the 1980s when regulations were brought in to improve fire safety at residential blocks.

Concerns that the panels could exacerbate the spread of fires led authorities to allow them only on buildings that can be reached by the fire brigade using fully-extended ladders from the ground. Taller buildings require panels with a more fire-resistant core and separate staircases for people to use if evacuation becomes necessary.

Frankfurt’s fire chief, Reinhard Ries, said he was appalled at the fire at Grenfell Tower and said tighter fire-safety rules for tower blocks in Germany meant that a similar incident could not happen there. US building codes also restrict the use of metal-composite panels without flame-retardant cores on buildings above 15 metres.

Germany is deemed to have some of the most stringent fire regulations in the world. High-rise tower blocks are common, particularly in former communist parts of the country, where they dominated new-build housing for decades.

In Berlin and elsewhere, the austere blocks have become fashionable places to live, in part because of a housing shortage and the high cost of accommodation.

Berlin’s fire chief, Wilfried Gräfling, said the London fire made it clear that fire regulations should be tightened further with only mineral materials used in cladding panels. “We will try to persuade lawmakers that flammable material should no longer be allowed to be used as an insulant,” he told Der Spiegel. “Only mineral material that can’t burn, ensuring that it’s no longer possible for a fire to spread via the cladding,.”

The speed at which the fire spread at Grenfell Tower has led to intense speculation that external cladding panels made from aluminium sheets with a flammable polyethylene core may have fuelled the fire that tore through the block in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But the investigation into the tragedy will look at scores of other factors that could have contributed to the blaze, including the proper installation of fire barriers between the cladding on each floor and any holes left after the recent refurbishment through which fire could have spread.
In the UK there are no regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools. But the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body, has been pushing for years for the government to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities and companies to use only fire-retardant material. Jim Glocking, technical director of the FPA, said it had “lobbied long and hard” for building regulations on the issue to be tightened, but nothing had happened.

On Thursday police launched a criminal inquiry into the fire at the 24-storey building. At least 30 people died in the blaze, though police expect the figure to rise substantially. Of the injured, 30 remain in hospital with 15 in a critical condition.

Sports

Looking back on my Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace | Mo Farah

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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.

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Crime

Police bid to trace stolen VW car used in shotgun killing in west London

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A man shot dead in a “cowardly” execution-style attack in west London was murdered by killers using a stolen VW car with cloned number plates, police revealed today.

Khalid Abdi Farah, 26, was blasted to death by a gunman armed with a shotgun as he sat in a car outside a convenience store in Southall.

Detectives say the killer was a passenger in a first generation Tiguan car which pulled up alongside Mr Farah’s Ford Focus in Lady Margaret Road in the early hours of last Saturday.

The gunman walked up to Mr Farah’s car and pushed the shotgun through the window, firing twice at close range.

The 26-year-old, who worked as a courier, suffered critical injuries to his chest and died later in hospital.

The charity Crimetoppers today announced a £10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers and appealed to anyone who saw the Tiguan with the number plate ‘VK 61 EEG’ being driven in the Southall area around the time of the murder.

The plates were cloned form a legitimate Tiguan owner who recently purchased a car and the stolen vehicle was found burnt out in West Drayton after the murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Partridge, who is leading the murder inquiry, said : “We believe the VW Tiguan found burnt out in Knowles Close was the car used by the suspects who shot Khalid. This car had been stolen from the Uxbridge area on 15 October and was using cloned plates between then and Khalid’s murder.

“I am making a very specific request for assistance from the public who live in the Southall and West Drayton areas of west London for sightings of the Tiguan bearing the cloned plates ‘VK 61 EEG’.

“Our work indicates this car was being used and stored around these areas during that time.”

He also appealed to petrol station employees about anyone buying a green petrol container on November 11 to contact them.

DCI Partridge added: “It is early in the investigation and we are still keeping an open mind about what lies behind this attack. If anyone has any information which might give us a reason for this then please let us know.

“From what I understand the victim was sitting in his car minding his own business on a night out, he was targeted in a cowardly fashion.

A family has been left devastated by Khalid’s murder and I would urge anyone who has information that could assist this investigation, please call police or the charity Crimestoppers.”

Mr Farah’s family issued a statement saying : “Khalid was such an amazing son, brother and nephew. We can’t stress enough how distraught we are that our beautiful boy was taken away from us.

“He was a kind and lovable soul that made an impression with everyone he would meet. We as a family will never come to terms with this. If you know even the tiniest of details please come forward. Khalid will only rest in peace when this killer is brought to justice.”

There have been no arrests.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police through incident room on 020 8358 0300 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 11.

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UK

It makes me livid that the Labour Party assumes black people must support it

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Apart from the London mayoral elections, I have never voted Tory, but I know many black and brown people who have. My beautiful younger brother is one such person. Not only is Mohammed a proud Tory but he is also the chair and founder of the Somali Conservatives and will be standing for the party in 2018 local elections.

So when a 2010 blog by Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad surfaced, referring to Shaun Bailey a “token ghetto boy”, I took offence. No, actually I was livid. Like my brother, Shaun is black and a Tory. My brother and many of those I love and respect, who are proud Conservative members, are not tokens. They are brave, bright people who have chosen to vote for and back a party they believe in. They also want to help it change.

As a child, Mohammed, like me, saw our grandfather dragged out of his bed in Hargeisa, now the capital of Somaliland, in the middle of the night for speaking out against a dictator. As a result of this and the civil war my family were forced to flee.

Something like that shapes your life. For my family it meant we became very political and some of us joined political parties.

None is perfect — I am a member of the Women’s Equality Party — but there is a prevalent idea that Labour owns black and minority ethnic (BAME) people, which I reject. That was the undertone of Dent Coad’s statement, and a toxic reminder of why Labour has lost me and many of my peers.

To me, the Labour Party is all talk and no action. I get trolled by its members and I have even been blocked on Twitter by members of the shadow cabinet — I think because I work with Tory MPs to end female genital mutilation.
Many on the Left still believe that FGM is a cultural issue and that we should be “talking” to abusers and prefer to “respect” differences rather than saving girls like me.

One senior Labour figure once told me they would have to see “how it plays out with the mosques” when I asked him to back me in my fight.

During my campaigning on FGM I have been open to working with anyone in power, but in my experience the Labour Party has shown little interest, while those in the Conservative Party have been quick to respond.

From David Cameron to the current Prime Minister, Conservative politicians have demonstrated that they care about ending FGM. For me and 200 million women across the world who have been cut this is crucial.

Today there is a real possibility that FGM can and will end within our lifetime and that is thanks to some very white and posh men who saw me and listened.

As Kemi Badenoch — a rising star and very black Tory MP — said, the attitude that black people cannot be Tories “traps many black children within imaginary boundaries they believe they aren’t allowed to cross. They end up living less than the very best lives they can.”

Seeing MPs such as Badenoch and James Cleverly in the House of Commons means that my niece and little cousins can see people like themselves in positions of power.

The BAME population of this great country is diverse, and as such, we have the constitutionally-given right to join and support whichever party we wish. Dent Coad and her party would do well to remember that.

I did not need Jeremy Corybn to unlock my talent in order to get three law degrees and I am not waiting for him and his band of Lefty loons to set me free.

Hijab Barbie is not for children to play with

I’ve never played with a Barbie doll and I don’t intend to buy one for any of the girls in my family. I totally get that the makers of Barbie want to sell more of them in the run-up to Christmas but I would not buy my six-year-old niece Sofia a make-up-wearing Barbie, and for the same reason I would not buy her a hijab-wearing one.

The hijab, like make-up and other things meant for adults, is not for children to play with. Instead I would love a world in which girls have strong female icons to admire in many industries — and not have dolls marketed to them by a company such as Mattel.

My homeland is leading the way in outlawing FGM

On Monday Somaliland held its fifth multi-party presidential election, though the results are not in yet. Despite the lack of international recognition, Somaliland is leading the way in the region on so many fronts. Last week, in the final days of the election campaign, I visited Hargeisa, the city of my birth, to lobby for legislation to ban FGM.

Somaliland has the world’s highest incidence of FGM. Like me, 98 per cent of women and girls in the country have undergone FGM — but there is hope. Not only did all three of the men seeking to be the next president agree with me on the subject, they and their party chairmen agreed to table legislation on FGM in their first 100 days.

I know politicians will say anything to get elected but sitting down with these men, I believed them.

I hope to travel back to Somaliland in February with Zac Goldsmith, who has played a significant role in supporting this work. Ending FGM within a generation is something I believe we will achieve. I am proud that Somaliland is leading the way.

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