Grenfell insulation manufacturer behaved “unethically”

The company behind Grenfell Tower’s insulation presented “deliberately misleading” testing for the project’s refurbishment, according to its former product manager.

Jonathan Roper, who formerly worked at Celotex Insulation, told the public inquiry that he had been made to “lie for commercial gain” by passing an “unrealistic” fire safety test that placed insulation behind cement particle cladding boards – not part of the system specified in Grenfell – and which was then marketed for general use on high rises.

According to Roper, the team “overengineered” its products to meet the BRE’s fire safety tests, which failed in 2014 in its original state, by adding in fire resisting boards.

He explained to the inquiry that the company’s senior management told him to remove all reference to this failed test and the use of additional fire resistant boards from a presentation on the product.

In the second day of inquiries, Roper also said that the company “took advantage on the apparent ignorance” of the LABC. As its competitor had been, the product was awarded Class 0 by the building control firm, which allowed them to claim the product as having “limited combustibility.” The inquiry argued the company knew this was erroneous, which Roper confirmed, and when asked by the inquiry if he believed this was “intentional, deliberate, and dishonest,” he replied: “I believe so, yes.”

While at the time combustible insulation was only permissible for use on high rises in the precise system it was tested on, Roper said it “quickly became apparent” after raising his concerns with the company that its senior management teams were allegedly determined to launch the product regardless.

The inquiry was told that aiming to compete with a rival which had marketed insulation for high rises since 2006, ‘cornering’ £10m worth of business, had led the firm to market its own product “unethically.”

When asked if he thought the conduct had felt dishonest, Jonathan told the inquiry: “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, it was my first job, I thought this was standard practice, albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”

His manager at the time, Paul Evans, took the stand after him, with the then Celotex technical services team leader Jamie Hayes following on from him.

Paul Evans commented that he didn’t recall many of the matters discussed, and denied some of the allegations from Jonathan Roper.

In the inquiries final question on day 3, Evans was asked: “Given your position within Celotex at the time, looking back on that evidence and looking back on your experiences up to and including the day of the fire, is there anything that you would have done differently.”

He responded: “It needed a lot more attention, focus and investment, time, all of the other things that were part of working for Celotex, and I believe if we’d have had all of that in place, and the business would have understood that more, then different decision would have been made and ultimately we wouldn’t have launched the product.”

Alongside this, it was argued by Evans that the NHBC dropped objections to combustible insulation on high rises after industry lobbying – who had held up the Celotex project at multiple stages earlier on.

Jamie Hayes however confirmed many of Roper’s claims, and even reported that it was his idea to rig the test. 

He said that he did not think that the company would hide this fact in the official test report and the marketing of it, but that he did become aware that the team were doing so, and that it was “a failure of moral fibre” on his part not to challenge it.

Celotex has commented that staff have left the company following disciplinary processes.