THE INQUIRY heard that a ‘sense of a pressure to increase profits’ motivated Celotex to market its RS5000 insulation as having passed a fire safety test, when it had been ‘manipulated’.

Earlier this week, Celotex’s former assistant product manager Jonathan Roper admitted that the company had been ‘dishonest’ and made ‘misleading’ claims by ‘over-engineering’ a cladding fire safety test so that its insulation product could pass. He had worked on two tests and subsequent sales plans, with the first – in February 2014 – failing within 26 minutes at the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

Mr Roper claimed that BRE’s Phil Clarke suggested it had failed due to non combustible cladding panels cracking in front of it, and that a thicker panel would ‘achieve a pass’. Flames had been ‘engulfing the rig’, but after changing some of the materials used around insulation, including ‘adding concealed fire-retardant panels’, the second test in May passed, ‘and was used to market the foam boards as safe for high-rise buildings’.

The ‘overengineering’ saw Celotex add a 6mm fire resisting magnesium oxide board to the cladding test rig made of 12mm thick fibre cement panels, with 8mm fibre cement panels added over the oxide board to ‘conceal’ its presence, ‘making the whole system almost flush – but for the 2mm difference’ – with the oxide board added ‘with the express knowledge of senior managers’.

He agreed that the decision to use a ‘thinner layer was to make it less noticeable there was something behind it’, and help ‘see off any prospect of anyone asking questions’, and he was ‘fully aware’ that the test was being ‘overengineered to achieve a pass’. Mr Roper also was ‘not in any doubt’ that Mr Clarke was aware of the plan to include the magnesium oxide.

Mr Roper was asked to produce slides for the sales team and senior management to explain the testing process, which he was later told ‘would not include’ mention of the failed test or the addition of fire resistant materials to the second. He admitted the presentation was ‘downright misleading’ and ‘intended to mislead’, as well as that Celotex had behaved in a ‘completely unethical’ way.

When published, the BRE test report ‘contained no reference’ to the oxide boards, with Mr Roper claiming that Mr Clarke ‘decided they did not have a major impact on the test result so omitted them’. Despite this, Mr Roper asked them to remove the only image that showed the boards, which was rejected.

He then ‘cop[ied] and pasted’ Kingspan’s description of its K15 product, mentioning that it was suitable for use on buildings above 18m, into a brief for the Celotex marketing team to include in product literature, with ‘no reference’ made to the magnesium oxide. Asked by inquiry counsel Richard Millett if the ‘omissions and misdescriptions were not accidental’, Mr Roper admitted that ‘no, they were deliberate’.

When the product was presented to his own marketing team, Mr Roper ‘continued to remove’ the key testing details, with Mr Millett asking if it was his idea ‘that they would practice this deceit on Celotex’s customers, the better to sell this product’; he ‘accepted that this was the aim’, but said it was not his idea.

Asked in turn if he had realised ‘at the time’ that ‘this would be a fraud on the market’, Mr Roper said ‘yes, I did’, and added that ‘I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it. I recall going home that evening, I was living with my parents at the time, and mentioning it to them. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with what I was being asked to do’. He also said he had been made to ‘lie for commercial gain’.

He said all senior managers were in the meeting about the strategy, stating: ‘This was a common practice. All of the management action board were present when… the decision was made. I have subsequently heard and seen that this isn’t the only manipulation of the test data this business has had: there are issues around the Class 0 fire performance, around the thermal performance of its entire range.

‘It was within the culture of that business at that time. It’s something I maybe should have, or definitely should have, expressed more of a concern about. 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 matter led him to quit his role in product management and move to sales, and he said: ‘I felt entirely uncomfortable but equally useless in the whole lead up from testing through to marketing through to launch. It was one of the contributory factors for me leaving my role as product manager because I felt so uncomfortable … and I knew there was going to be a level of questioning that came into things post-launch that would essentially mean I would have to lie for commercial gain again.’

Mr Roper added that all of his work was overseen by former marketing director Paul Evans, and the inquiry was shown an email from Mr Roper in November 2013 that said ‘trying to do the right thing’ by following the rules ‘would require a huge [publicity] campaign and probably a lawsuit’ from Kingspan, and that Celotex could ‘back out’ of trying to sell the insulation for high rises ‘because in the event of a fire it will burn’.

He noted it ‘quicky became apparent’ after sending that email that this was not the route Celotex planned to take, with its commercial team ‘keen to replicate’ Kingspan’s approach in order to avoid ‘limiting sales’. Later, Mr Evans said there was ‘not anything in him’ that thought publishing the ‘misleading’ claims was wrong, and claimed that his ‘understanding was that what we were [publishing] was what we had tested’.

He claimed he was ‘unaware of what I was aware of’ in terms of incorrect information, but had been present at a meeting where including magnesium oxide was discussed. He added: ‘There was no-one coming to me saying, “we shouldn’t be launching this”. All I can say is that when we were launching the product to the sales team and the marketing material was going there was not anything in me that thought what we were doing was misleading.’

Pushed as to whether he accepted that marketing literature was ‘thoroughly misleading’, Mr Evans agreed, and suggested RS500 had not been approved for use in high rises ‘in isolation’, but as part of a ‘wider system’. His witness statement said his team was ‘keen to make it absolutely clear in the marketing literature that the product approval to the two standards had occurred as part of a system so the product was not approved in isolation for use in any particular application or system’.

He was also shown an email he had sent referring to other marketing material, in which he told a colleague that ‘we always need to be careful how we validate the +18m message. We can’t have it in too many places as a stand alone statement’. Mr Evans said that he had wanted to ensure that message was ‘validated’ and ‘caveated’.

Associated Press has now reported on evidence from former technical team member Jamie Hayes, who said that the acquisition of Celotex by French firm Saint Gobain in 2012 ‘brought about a change of culture’ including an ‘increased financial pressure to develop new products’ and a ‘sense of pressure to increase profits’.

Mr Hayes explained, when asked how financial pressures ‘manifested’ within the business, that the second fire test was arranged ‘incredibly quickly’ after the first one failed, adding: ‘Although it didn’t seem that strange to me at the time I look back on that now and think it’s unbelievable that only a few months passed between the failure of a major test and how quickly the second test was arranged, authorised, paid for and not to mention the fact that you would have to actually arrange to build a rig – which is to say have all the materials and have someone construct it.

‘How quickly they turned around from one to two I think illustrates quite well that they were not prepared to wait any longer than was humanly possible to progress that project, and I guess the ultimate point of that project was to have a product that could be sold to increase profits.’

The inquiry heard that using the magnesium oxide in the second test was Mr Hayes’ idea, but he said he was not involved in the decision to not publicise it, and on not challenging this omission in the test report, he said: ‘[It was a] failure of courage, failure of character and failure of moral fibre not to do so on my part.’

He said in his witness statement, on the component not being mentioned in the company’s marketing materials, that ‘I was aware of it and did not challenge it’, while in the hearings expanded on this by stating that ‘I believed it and know it to be wholly wrong and dishonest’.