Housing minister’s ‘shock’ at Grenfell inquiry evidence of ‘unethical’ acts by Suffolk firm
PUBLISHED: 16:29 17 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:29 17 November 2020
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has expressed “shock” at claims of “dishonest” acts by a Suffolk firm which made flammable insulation on Grenfell Tower.
Jonathan Roper, former assistant product manager at Celotex - manufacturers of the Rs5000 product used on the London tower - admitted complying with acts which were “completely unethical” and a “fraud on the market” during the public hearing into the June 2017 tragedy.
The official public inquiry into the tragedy, in which 72 people died, heard that a first fire test failed in January 2014 - but a second system passed in 2014.
Celotex, based in Lady Lane, Hadleigh, reportedly used this to erroneously market the combustible rigid foam boards as being safe for use on high-rise buildings.
The inquiry this week heard Celotex added a 6mm fire-resisting magnesium oxide board to a cladding test rig made up of 12mm fibre cement panels for the second test - before 8mm fibre cement panels were added over the magnesium oxide to “conceal” its presence.
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Asked whether he felt that was “dishonest”, Mr Roper agreed and said he “felt incredibly uncomfortable with it”.
However, he told the inquiry there was no-one in the firm he could tell about his concerns.
Celotex, part of the French multinational Saint-Gobain group, has maintained it promoted Rs5000’s use on buildings taller than 18m only on a “rainscreen cladding system with the specific components”, used when it passed the fire safety test.
Asked about Mr Roper’s evidence, Mr Jenrick said on Tuesday: “I thought that was very shocking testimony when I watched it back on the news last night, to see somebody who worked in a manufacturer supplier admitting freely that they had rigged the testing and put many people’s lives at risk as a result was very shocking.”
He added: “What we need to do now is learn the lessons from that, that’s what the independent public inquiry will, I hope, achieve, and we need to make sure there’s much, much stiffer regulation for building safety in this country.”
In its opening statement for module two of the inquiry, Celotex 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.”
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