Jonathan Roper of Celotex, the company that produced the combustible cladding that fuelled the Grenfell Tower fire, has said it “behaved in a highly unethical way", presenting “misleading” results from a fire safety test.
Speaking at the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry, Roper added that the work he was asked to do to ensure the foam cladding was deemed safe for use was “dishonest”, and that he “felt incredibly uncomfortable about it at the time”.
In 2013, Roper was asked to research whether the insulation – called “Rs5000” – was appropriate for use on buildings over a height of 18 metres. Based on his findings, he wrote to colleagues that “realistically [it] should not be used behind most cladding panels, because in the event of a fire it would burn”.
Despite Celotex being made aware of the safety risks attached to the cladding, Roper claimed the company was determined to go ahead with putting it on the market, regardless of whether it passed safety tests.
In response, Celotex has 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."
The company says that, following disciplinary procedures, several of the staff involved have left the company.
The first safety test for the cladding, in 2014, failed conclusively. A second test, later that year, passed. But the company did not disclose the fact that, in order to pass this test, it had added extra non-combustible elements (“a6mm fire-resisting magnesium oxide board”) to the cladding, which would not be featured in the final product. In other words, Celotex only passed by misrepresenting how safe the product really was.
The company even added an extra level of concrete over the fire-resistant magnesium so that no one would notice it was there. “A thinner layer was to make it less noticeable [that] there was something else behind it,” Roper told the inquiry, in order to “see off any prospect of anyone asking questions”.
Roper agreed that this was dishonest, saying, “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.”
Roper said his bosses demanded that any mention of the failed first test, or the fact that the magnesium board had been added to the second test, should be avoided in sales material and promotional literature. This was, in his words, “misleading and intended to mislead”.
The first phase of the public inquiry concluded that the foam cladding was an important factor in how quickly the fire spread, as well as releasing toxic gasses.
The Grenfell Tower fire killed at least 72 people. Many survivors are still waiting to be re-housed over two years later.