IN BRIEF

Grenfell foam insulation producer cheated in fire safety test, admits ex-employee

London

17 November 2020

An ex-employee of Celotex, the makers of the foam insulation panels used at Grenfell, has said that the manufacturer was “dishonest” in a second fire safety test after the foam panels failed the first one.

Jonathan Roper, who worked for Celotex as an assistant product manager, was at the company in 2014 when two fire safety tests of the insulation panels in question were conducted. The magnesium oxide panels, called RS5000, failed the first test in 26 minutes, with flames quickly engulfing the entire rig. Three months later, a second test was conducted, this time including concealed fire-retardant panels. RS5000 passed the test and was approved for high-rise buildings.

Roper was then asked to produce slides for the company’s sales team which did not mention the first failed test. The messaging, admits Roper, was “downright misleading” and “intended to mislead”.

Richard Millett QC, counsel to the ongoing inquiry, asked Roper: “Did you realise at the time that … this would be a fraud on the market?” asked Millett. “Yes, I did,” said Roper. “I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it. I recall going home that evening, I was living with my parents at the time, and mentioning it to them. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with what I was being asked to do.”

Celotex has told the inquiry that “the combustible nature of [its insulation] was, or should have been, known to construction professionals”. The circumstances of the testing, certification and marketing of RS5000 involved “unacceptable conduct” by some employees, Celotex admits. It says it has “taken concerted steps to ensure that no such issues reoccur”.

RS5000 was used as cladding on Grenfell Tower, where a blaze killed 72 people on 14 June 2017. The rapid spread of the fire was greatly aided by the flammable insulation panels.