The company that sold the combustible insulation for use on Grenfell Tower “intentionally and dishonestly” misled a building control body into issuing a certificate that helped secure its use on the tower, the inquiry heard today.
Following revelations yesterday regarding Celotex’s “manipulation” of an official large-scale test to secure a pass for its RS5000 product, Jonathan Roper, former product manager, was asked today about a certificate from the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) which confirmed that it could be used on high rises.
He explained that the firm was seeking to replicate its rival Kingspan, which had an LABC certificate for its K15 insulation product that helped it to win lucrative jobs on high-rise buildings.
When Mr Roper contacted LABC in January 2014 to enquire how Kingspan had been awarded this certificate, David Ewing, technical sales director at LABC, told him: “As the board [K15] is described as Class 0 it can be termed a material of limited combustibility and… suitable for use within the wall construction even at heights above 18m.”
But this was in fact a serious error: Class 0 and limited combustibility are entirely different fire ratings, and many Class 0 products could never obtain a limited combustibility rating. Mr Roper was aware of this, but he did not alert Mr Ewing.
LABC is a representative body for building control officers but it also runs a commercial operation that involves certifying products.
“Were you not concerned that the LABC had confused Class 0 and limited combustibility at a pretty fundamental level?” asked Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry.
Asked why he did not say anything about this, Mr Roper replied: “I think it was viewed as advantageous not to.”
“You decided not to challenge him on his misunderstanding, but to go along with it and to capitalise on it… you were looking to reinforce that misunderstanding to obtain an LABC certificate for RS5000?” asked Mr Millett.
“Yes,” replied Mr Roper.
Mr Roper then emailed LABC some suggested wording for the certificate, which included the claim that it could be used “with a variety of cladding systems” and that its test pass meant it is “therefore acceptable for use in buildings above 18m in height”.
This was wrong – the use of the insulation was in fact strictly limited to the material it had been tested with, a 12mm cement fibre cladding panel. But LABC copied and pasted this wording wholesale into its certificate – even including a typo in Mr Roper’s email.
This wording was in Celotex’s marketing material but would now have apparently official backing.
“Instead of it being dismissed as just sales talk it was now going to go into an official-looking document that would have a profound impact on how building control officers would view its suitability for buildings above 18m?” Mr Millett asked. Mr Roper accepted this.
He also accepted that doing this “ran the risk of misleading customers and building control officers” and that this was “intentional, deliberate and dishonest”.
The LABC certificate was provided by Celotex to Harley Facades – the sub-contractor that purchased it for use on Grenfell Tower. John Hoban, the building control officer who signed the tower off as compliant, also said in evidence that he had viewed the certificate.
Yesterday, the inquiry had heard Mr Roper’s evidence that he had assisted in manipulating the test pass by including additional fire-resisting boards in the rig on which it was tested, and then removing reference to them from marketing material.
Today Mr Roper also revealed that the gaps between the cladding panels were reduced from the 10mm gaps shown on drawings, to lower the chance of flames getting to the insulation.
“Was the intention to falsify the drawings to show 10mm gaps where there were none?” Mr Millett asked.
“Yes,” replied Mr Roper.
Later the inquiry heard that the firm was also manipulating testing surrounding the insulation performance of its products.
A strategy document was shown which said that four to six measurements of thermal performance were taken per day but that quality control would log only those that fell within an acceptable range, in order to present a lower ‘lambda value’ than the boards were actually achieving.
The document said that 40% to 50% of tests fell outside this range and that keeping these tests off the system represented “a high degree of data management and manipulation”. It warned that it “could be identified by an auditor if they followed the process trail”.
Mr Roper was followed by his manager Paul Evans in the afternoon session. In his witness statement, Mr Evans explained how Celotex was owned by a private equity firm, AAC Capital, when he joined and the intention was to sell it.
“The drive for profit-making and increasing the company’s share price had been systemic in Celotex’s culture for some time,” he said.
The company was sold to giant materials company Saint Gobain in 2013, triggering the hunt for new products that could be used above 18m.
A spreadsheet was created of the lost opportunities where the firm missed out on sales to Kingspan because it could not be used above 18m.
During his evidence, Mr Evans flatly denied having any knowledge of the decision to use additional fire barriers in the test – despite two other Celotex witnesses, including Mr Roper, saying he was involved in the decision.
After being shown a slideshow that Mr Roper produced – but that he claims Mr Evans presented – which referred specifically to the use of the boards, Mr Evans changed his evidence to say that the use of the panels “did not resonate” with him and that he “did not know why” they had been used.
Mr Evans continues giving evidence tomorrow.
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Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry
After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means
Week three: Architects of misfortune
This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points
Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’
The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment
Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’
Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon
Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’
Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence
Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’
Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks
Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’
This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor
Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’
With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’
With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report
Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’
With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports
Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’
This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports
Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’
Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps
Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’
This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps
Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment
Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block
Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’
The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports
Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’
As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings
Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story
Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’
This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports
Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’
The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’
In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports
Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’
This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’
The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’
This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.