In September 2017 Celotex, the supplier of the deadly insulation implicated in the Grenfell Tower inferno, recalled and suspended sales of five of its PIR foam insulation products following the failure of Celotex RS5000, which was used on Grenfell Tower, to achieve the required Class 0 fire ratiing in independent tests conducted in April 2017. The reasons why Celotex decided to independently test RS5000 just two months before the Grenfell fire are as yet unknown but another Celotex product FR5000 had previously been certified as class 0 following tests in 2011. The certification of FR5000 was then applied by the company to cover also Celotex RS5000, Celotex CG5000, Celotex CF5000 and Celotex SL5000 all of which had an identical PIR core.
Sales of the RS5000 product had been suspended on 23 June, soon after the Grenfell fire, but in September, apparently following confirmation in August that RS5000 had failed the recent independent test, Celotex suspended four more 5000 range products, including the FR5000 that had been certified class 0 in 2011. Under UK building regulations only class 0 cladding or associated insulation can be certified for use on high rise residential buildings. However the RS5000 insulation, when tested in 2017, achieved only a lesser Class 1 rating.
According to Celotex they were surprised by the RS5000 test result and did not understand why it had failed to achieve the required Class 0 rating. In light of this result Celotex expressed a desire to act responsibly by suspending supply of the five named products from the 5000 range, all of which they had previously marketed as meeting the optimum class 0 standard;
The next development in this saga came in May 2018 when a BBC Panorama report claimed that the insulation on Grenfell Tower had never passed the required safety test and should never have been on the building. Panorama claimed the manufacturer, Celotex, had used extra fire retardant in the test product that qualified for the safety certificate and that a more flammable version was then sold for public use. Panorama also accused Celotex of mis-selling the insulation with misleading marketing;
In response Celotex said;
“During the programme a new allegation was made that Celotex had added fire retardant to the formula of a product sample which was used for a safety certificate and that a different product to this was actually sold. Prior to Panorama raising this, we were unaware of this allegation and had not identified anything which would support it. Celotex is investigating this allegation via all avenues as a matter of urgency.”
The Celotex statement went on to assert that the company was co-operating with the police investigation and inquiry and could not comment further, but it did not categorically deny the Panorama allegations;
The closing chapter of this blog is derived entirely from the expert witness statement submitted to Stage 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry by Dr Barbara Lane. It relies almost exclusivley on Appendix E of that statement, the closing section of which is sub-titled “Withdrawal of the test report on Celotex RS5000”.
Dr Lane refers to correspondence she received from Linklaters, the legal representatives of Celotex Ltd, which completely vindicates the allegations made by the BBC Panorama team in May of this year;
“The current management team has recently determined that there were differences between the system as tested under BS 8414-2 and the description of that system in the report of the test. These differences were carried through into the company’s marketing of RS5000.” (Lane E8.1.4)
“Work to establish the nature extent and effect of the differences continues and the circumstances in which this happened are not yet clear” (Lane E8.1.5)
The correspondence goes on to confirm that;
“…a 6mm thick magnesium oxide board was used in at least two places on the test rig….” (Lane E8.1.6)
Readers should note that magnesium oxide is a fireproofing ingredient commonly used in construction materials and the inappropriate and inexplicable insertion of the magnesium oxide board described in the Celotex correspondence would have significantly distorted the test results on which the class 0 certification of Celotex FR5000 was based, and by implication the certification of the four other recalled Celotex products, including the RS5000 used on Grenfell Tower.
Dr Lane further comments that;
“BRE do not provide a comparison between RS5000 and FR5000 in the test report to explain why the test results from one product can be directly used to classify another product.” (Lane E7.1.5)
“Therefore, it appears that RS5000 and FR5000 are the same PM Foam.” (Lane E6.1.14)
“Regardless, their report has now been withdrawn entirely by Celotex.” (Lane E7.1.5)
At this point it would seem appropriate to display Dr Lane’s Table E10 which clearly shows her own dismissal as illegitimate of the 2011 certification of Celotex FR5000 on the grounds that the tests were “non-compliant” with Approved Document B of the Building Regulations “as none of the required methods of demonstrating limited combustibility had been used”:
(This table can also be found on page 37 of Dr Lane’s appendix E)
Given the illegitimacy of the certification of the RS5000 insulation used on Grenfell Tower and the withdrawal by Celotex Ltd of the certification of RS5000 and any claim that it had been legitimate, Dr Lane testifies in her statement;
“I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire,” she said. “I have found no evidence that building control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire. Further, I have found no evidence that the TMO risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system, nor have I found evidence that the LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding.” (Lane 2.19.2)
So here we are. The evidence as it stands is clear and indisputable. The entire process of certification of the insulation in which Grenfell Tower was shrouded has been exposed as deeply flawed and illegitimate – so much so that its legitimacy was rejected by Dr Lane and Celotex Ltd felt compelled to withdraw the certification it had earlier issued. Later in her statement Dr Lane stated her interim conclusions – I use the word ‘interim’ only because she repeatedly stressed that the evidence she has so far accumulated is incomplete and she intends to continue her investigation of all matters within her terms of reference with the object of uncovering as much additional evidence as possible so that she can fully explain the many flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence she has so far uncovered:
“Based on this test evidence submitted to the Public Inquiry, and as that test evidence is relevant to the materials installed on Grenfell Tower, these are my conclusions:
a) The specified and installed rainscreen cladding panels, insulation and cavity barriers did not comply with the provisions made in Section 12 of the Approved Document B 2013.
b) The specified and installed rainscreen cladding panels, insulation and
cavity barriers did not comply with the functional Requirement of B4(1) of the Building Regulations.” (Lane 11.21.7)
“The building envelope system, designed and installed during the 2012-2016 refurbishment, was therefore non-compliant with the functional requirement of B4 and B3 of the Building Regulations 2010.” (Lane 11.21.13)
The conclusions stated above, and quoted earlier from section 2 of her statement, go beyond the scope of this blog which, in the interests of constructing a clear and cohesive narrative, we have confined, as far as possible, to matters relating only to the Celotex insulation that encased Grenfell Tower. Nonetheless, it is our opinion that Dr Lane’s conclusions constitute a fully comprehensive and compelling indictment of all aspects of the refurbishment of the exterior of Grenfell Tower preceding the inferno in June 2017.
We must finish, however, on a note of caution. There is no doubt that the evidence we have presented here creates an appearance of deliberate malfeasance by Celotex Ltd in inappropriately adding additional fire proof magnesium oxide panelling during the testing of FR5000 insulation in 2011. This resulted in a flawed and illegitimate class 0 certification of Celotex FR5000 and, by extension, of four other 5000 series Celotex products, including the RS5000 insulation that encased the exterior of Grenfell Tower with such catastrophic consequences.
At this time, however, the appearance of malfeasance by Celotex Ltd remains just that – an appearance of malfeasance which remains, as yet, unsupported by irrefutable evidence. Whether or not the irregularities in the testing of the FR5000 in 2011 involved criminal negligence on the part of Celotex Ltd, or whether something more deliberate and sinister was involved, remains to be seen. The ongoing investigation of this and other matters by Dr Lane, the Public Inquiry and the Metropolitan Police may, or may not, uncover the decisive evidence required to prove criminality by individuals of a more serious nature. We must await further developments and, in the meantime, it would be inappropriate for us to spculate any further on this matter.
All references above to Dr Lane’s evidence refer to her preliminary statement to Phase One of the Inquiry dated 12th April 2018. As Phase One drew to a close she submitted a far lengthier and more comprehensive supplemental statement dated 5th November 2018. It is vital to distinguish between these two versions of her Phase One evidence statement as the page and paragraph references used in this post apply only to the preliminary version from April 2018 and will not apply to the much more substantial supplemental statement she produced in November 2018. Celotex Ltd, through their legal representatives, attempted to explain the inconsistencies identified in their account of the testing and certification of their insulation boards and of the inappropriate presence of fireproof magnesium oxide board in the tests on which the certification of those products had been based. Dr Lane’s final statement in November 2018 deals with these matters in greater detail. I would strongly urge the reader to study carefully Appendix E of Dr Lane’s supplemental report from November 2018 before making a fully informed judgement regarding the antics of Celotex Ltd on this issue.