Cladding installer says testing body was checking test rig the ‘whole time’
Celotex made no attempt to conceal the rigging of a fire test on an insulation product used on Grenfell Tower’s refurbishment, the inquiry has heard.
Patrick Jones, who was hired by cladding contractor Simco to install the test rig for Celotex at the burn hall of testing body the Building Research Establishment (BRE), told Tuesday’s hearing that he was not aware of anything “underhanded” going on during installation.
The inquiry has already heard how Celotex had added two fire-resisting magnesium boards to a May 2014 fire test of its RS5000 insulation to increase its chances of passing after an earlier February test had failed.
After the May test successfully passed, the presence of the extra magnesium oxide boards was not referenced in either the BRE’s official report of the test or Celotex’s marketing literature for the product.
The RS5000 insulation, which the inquiry heard last year was actually a rebranded version of an earlier insulation, FR5000, which had failed the test required for use on buildings above 18m, was then marketed as safe for use on high rise buildings and installed on the 67m tall Grenfell tower as part of its refurbishment.
BRE burn hall manager Philip Clark, who oversaw both tests, denied any knowledge of the magnesium boards under questioning by the inquiry last month, and suggested that the extra components could have been “sneaked” onto the test rig without the BRE noticing.
Clark told the inquiry that the BRE “weren’t there 24/7. We didn’t have a security guard on the door,” adding that “the reliance was very much on the honesty of the client”.
But Jones, a self-employed cladding installer who fitted both the February and May test rigs, said that BRE staff were checking the installation of the test rig “the whole time”.
He added: “There were definitely people walking round measuring and checking and photographing and walking around with clipboards and looking at what we were doing at intervals during the whole time we were there.”
He added the BRE had an office on an upper floor which overlooked the burn hall “so anyone in that office would be able to see what we were doing anyway”.
Junior counsel to the inquiry Rachel Sullivan asked Jones: “Were you given any instructions to try and conceal the changes that were made to the design from the BRE?”
Jones replied: “No, definitely not. I was unaware of anything, as I said, underhanded or anything going on like that.
“There was no question of anything sinister occurring to me at the time, and no one suggested, ‘hurry up and get that on’ or ‘cover that up’ or ‘Don’t let anyone see that’. There was nothing like that.”
Despite the two magnesium boards being concealed behind a pair of cement boards of a different colour to the rest of the rig, and highlighted by a ruby-coloured band, Clark said that he had not noticed the changes and would have stopped the test if he had.
Asked last month how he could have missed the presence of the magnesium boards, Clark told the inquiry: “This is what has been playing in my mind for a long time,” adding: “I would have returned to the burn hall the day before the test and would be running around instrumenting and all that sort of thing, and to this day I still can’t think why I missed it. No, I can’t account for that at all.”
Two Celotex witnesses, former technical services officer Jamie Hayes and former assistant product manager Jonathan Roper, have told the inquiry that Clark had known about the extra magnesium oxide boards.
Roper told the inquiry last year that senior staff at Celotex had ordered all reference to the magnesium oxide boards to be removed from marketing literature, admitting that this amounted to a “fraud on the market”. Celotex withdrew the test report in 2018.
RS5000 was among several materials included in Grenfell Tower’s cladding system, alongside Arconic’s Reynobond PE ACM panels and Kingspan’s K15 insulation.
The first phase of the inquiry into the fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017, found that the insulation included in the building’s cladding system ”more likely than not” contributed to the spread of flames up the side of the tower.
The inquiry continues.