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Grenfell cladding company Celotex rigged fire tests, former employee says

UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick says inquiry testimony is very shocking

Smoke rises from Grenfell Tower, west London, which caught fire in the early hours of the morning of June 14, 2017. Getty Images
Smoke rises from Grenfell Tower, west London, which caught fire in the early hours of the morning of June 14, 2017. Getty Images

A former employee of the company that made the highly flammable insulation for Grenfell Tower in London has admitted the fire test was rigged.

Jonathan Roper, a former product manager at Celotex, told a public inquiry into the disaster that the company was dishonest and over-engineered a fire test so the cladding would meet safety standards.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Roper’s testimony was “very shocking” and it showed why the UK needed a much stiffer building code.

Seventy-two people died when fire, fuelled by the cladding, ripped through the west London high rise shortly after midnight in June 2017.

The inquiry heard the cladding failed an initial safety test in January 2014 but a second system passed in May that same year.

Celotex added a 6mm fire-resistant, magnesium oxide board to a cladding test rig made up of 12mm fibre cement panels for the second test, the inquiry heard.

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

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

'Completely unethical'

Mr Millett asked Mr Roper: “Did that strike you at the time as dishonest?”

Mr Roper replied: “Yes it did. 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, my first job, I thought this was standard practice, albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”

Mr Roper said his bosses wanted the mention of magnesium oxide to be removed from marketing material.

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: "Yes, I did. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with what I was asked to do."

He said he felt that he could not voice his concerns to anyone else in the company at the time.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Jenrick said: “To see somebody who worked as a manufacturer, a supplier, admitting freely they had rigged the testing and put many people’s lives at risk, was very shocking.

“We need to make sure there is much, much stiffer regulation for building in this country.”

Mr Jenrick said up to 80 per cent of highly flammable cladding in UK buildings had been removed since the Grenfell disaster, but said there was much more work to be done to remove lower-risk material.

He said the government was “looking at a range of options” over who would pay for its removal.

“In the first instance, we should be pushing the people who actually built these buildings to pay for it,” Mr Jenrick said.

“Where that is not possible, for legal reasons, the owners have disappeared, gone bankrupt, whatever, then the state has a role.”

Updated: November 17, 2020 10:09 PM

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