Hadleigh firm engaged in dishonest and unethical acts to gain insulation's fire safety approval, former employee tells Grenfell Tower inquiry
The manufacturer of combustible insulation, which contributed to the spread of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire, engaged in deliberately dishonest behaviour to achieve the product’s safety approval, an ex-employee has claimed.
Jonathan Roper, former assistant product manager for Hadleigh-based Celotex, told the public inquiry into the 2017 disaster, which led to 72 deaths, that his employer had manipulated a cladding fire safety test, so its R5000 insulation product would pass.
The inquiry was told that, after failing a fire safety test in January 2014, the firm decided to add non-combustible components to a second cladding test rig, which it had failed to disclose, enabling the insulation to pass a second test four months later.
Mr Roper, who had joined Celotex straight from university, said this week that it had been made clear at the time that the company wanted to market the R5000 product for high-rise buildings, to compete with rival manufacturers.
The hearing on Monday heard that the “over-engineering” of the fire safety test – by adding flame-resistant magnesium oxide boards to the test rig and concealing their presence with fibre cement panels – was done with the knowledge of Celotex’s upper management.
“I went along with a lot of actions at Celotex that, looking back on reflection, were completely unethical and that I probably didn’t consider the impact of at the time,” Mr Roper told the inquiry.
“I was 22 or 23. I thought it was standard practice, albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”
He claimed his superiors had then ordered the omission of any mention of the magnesium oxide from marketing literature for the insulation – an action described by the inquiry’s head barrister, Richard Millett QC, as “a fraud on the market”.
Earlier hearings have also heard accusations that Celotex had misled Grenfell architects and contractors that the insulation was appropriate for use on structures over 18 metres in height.
Admitting his compliance with what he agreed was intentionally misleading behaviour, Mr Roper said he did not know of anyone he could go to within Celotex to air his concerns.
“I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it,” he added. “I felt incredibly uncomfortable with what I was asked to do.”
A statement from Celotex, which is head-quartered on the Lady Lane Industrial Estate in Hadleigh, has pledged full co-operation with the ongoing public inquiry.
“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,” read the statement.
“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.”