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Ex-employee describes ‘dishonest’ acts at firm that made flammable insulation on Grenfell

Written by on 17 November 2020

A former employee of the company that produced flammable insulation used on Grenfell Tower says he complied with “completely unethical” acts, the inquiry into the June 2017 disaster has heard.

Jonathan Roper, the ex-assistant product manager at Celotex, told proceedings the firm had been “dishonest” by “overengineering” a cladding fire safety test to enable its Rs5000 insulation product to pass.

After an initial test failure in January 2014, a second system passed in May 2014 – this was used to incorrectly market the combustible rigid foam boards as safe for use on high-rise buildings, the inquiry heard.

Celotex added a 6mm fire-resisting magnesium oxide board to a cladding test rig consisting of 12mm fibre cement panels for the second test, the hearing was told.

The inquiry heard 8mm fibre cement panels were added to “conceal” the presence of the magnesium oxide, making the whole system almost flush – but for the 2mm difference.

Mr Roper agreed with the inquiry’s chief lawyer Richard Millett QC that using “a thinner layer was to make it less noticeable there was something else behind it”, which would help “see off any prospect of anyone asking questions”, about how it had been made up.

Mr Roper answered “yes it did”, when Mr Millett had asked him the question: “Did that not strike you at the time as dishonest?”

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Mr Roper also said: “I went along with a lot of actions at Celotex that, looking back on reflection, were completely unethical and that I probably didn’t potentially consider the impact of at the time.

“I was 22 or 23, first job, I thought this was standard practice albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”

Image:
The site of the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed 72 lives on 14 June 2017

Mr Roper added that his superiors ordered the mention of magnesium oxide to be removed from any marketing, which he agreed was “misleading and intended to mislead”.

Mr Millett also asked: “Did you realise at the time that if this was how the test was to be described to the market it would be a fraud on the market?”

Mr Roper responded by saying: “Yes I did. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with what I was asked to do.”

He added that he could not voice his concerns to anyone else in the firm at the time.

Mr Roper also told the inquiry that the motivation for getting the Rs5000 product to market was to compete with a rival firm.

Celotex has released a statement, saying: “In the course of investigations carried out by Celotex after the Grenfell Tower fire, certain issues emerged concerning the testing, certification and marketing of Celotex’s products which were previously unknown to Celotex’s current management.”

It added: “Once established, they were promptly and publicly announced by notices on Celotex’s website and reported to the relevant testing and certification bodies, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Trading Standards, the Metropolitan Police and the Inquiry.

“These matters involved unacceptable conduct on the part of a number of employees. They should not have happened and Celotex has taken concerted steps to ensure that no such issues reoccur.

“Celotex is committed to cooperating fully with the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and related investigations, continuing to support the UK Government’s ongoing response to the tragedy.”

The company, part of the French multinational Saint-Gobain group, maintains that it promoted the use of Rs5000 on buildings higher than 18 metres only on a “rainscreen cladding system with the specific components”, used when it passed the fire safety test.

In its opening statement for module two of the inquiry, the firm said: “In the course of investigations carried out by Celotex after the Grenfell Tower fire, certain issues emerged concerning the testing, certification and marketing of Celotex’s products.

“These matters involved unacceptable conduct on the part of a number of employees.”

Module two of the inquiry will scrutinise the production, testing and sale of materials used in the tower’s refurbishment which saw 72 people killed in the 14 June 2017 fire.