Testimony from the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry has suggested that the firm who were responsible for making the building’s cladding cheated in tests for their product.
The second phase of the Grenfell inquiry – that began in early 2020 – has been seeking to look at the potential liability that led up to the tragic events on 14th June 2017. It has since emerged that the firm who made the cladding, Celotex – which the first inquiry concluded was largely responsible for the rapid spread of the fire – had deliberately cheated in tests to make it appear more fire-resistant than it was.
A former product manager at the company, Jonathon Roper, told the inquiry that the way in which the company presented the results of its fire test was misleading and that Celotex should have considered not selling its products for use on high-rise buildings.
Mr Roper told the inquiry that he had tried to warn colleagues about its suitability in 2013;
“Realistically should not be used behind most cladding panels, because in the event of a fire it would burn”.
He told the inquiry that Celotex was determined to launch the insulation regardless of how it could pass fire tests.
After a first test failure in January 2014, the product known as Rs5000 passed a second test in May 2014, however, Celotex failed to disclose additional non-combustible elements which it added to prevent it from failing. The inquiry were told that 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.
The chief lawyer on the inquiry Richard Millet QC, speculated that they deliberately attempted to conceal this and ensure the product could pass; Mr Roper agreed with his assessment.
When asked by Millet whether he believed the actions “struck him as dishonest”, Mr Roper said;
“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, first job, I thought this was standard practice, albeit it did sit very uncomfortably with me.”
The inquiry is attempted to establish criminal liability for the deaths of 76 people who were killed that night, with the inquiry perhaps likely to recommend corporate mansluaghter charges be brought against multiple organisations.
Corporate manslaughter is a criminal offence that can be brought against companies and some other organisations, whereby the actions of the company directly contributed to deaths.
This was the result of a 2007 law that aimed to give corporations separate criminal liability from their directors – although they may also be found to have criminal liability under separate laws.
It would potentially be one of the first major cases brought under corporate manslaughter, possibly against Celotex, or against Kensington and Chelsea Council, who are alleged to have been negligent in their duty of care to the residents of Grenfell Tower.