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Grenfell: Celotex staffer’s ‘WTF’ to test tweaks

30 November 2020
Deborah Berger

A former employee of Celotex has described how she was “shocked” to discover “tweaks” to a second fire safety test of the firm’s RS5000 insulation product, after a first had failed.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard how Deborah Berger took over as a product manager of RS5000 after colleague Jon Roper moved on from the role.

By that stage, RS5000 had already undergone two BS8414 system tests, the second of which in May 2014 it passed.

In her witness statement to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Berger said that when Roper talked her through the changes made to the second test in order to get RS5000 to pass, he did not tell her about the addition of a 6mm magnesium oxide panel at the level 2 thermocouples and also at the top of the rig.

She was made aware of concerns NHBC had with the test because the cladding boards tested were thicker and were therefore not representative of what is commonly used, while the NHBC was also concerned that there fewer gaps between the cladding boards and therefore it was understood there would be less air flow within the cavity to fan a fire.

But later in her time in the role, colleague Jamie Hayes highlighted his concerns about the BS8414-2 test that RS5000 underwent to Berger.

Asked how she knew Hayes was concerned, Berger said: “His…demeanour, his body language, the fact…Jamie and I have worked together for…four years, and we were very comfortable talking. So he didn’t really hesitate in telling me what he knew about the test, but he did approach it in a way which made me think: what’s happened then? You know, what’s going on?”

When Berger eventually viewed a copy of the test report and saw diagrams showing that magnesium oxide panels had been added to the rig, she wrote: “WTF” in the margin of the document.

Asked if this was shorthand for surprise and alarm, Berger said: “. It’s shock. Shorthand for shock that…this could have happened, yeah.”

Nonetheless, Berger said that eventually the details “receded from my mind”.

She said she did not go back to Jon Roper to ask him why he had not told her about the 6mm layer of magnesium oxide. And she said that she did not seek a meeting or discussion with her superior Paul Evans.

Asked why not, she said: “Because at the time when I learnt this information…I was about three or four weeks into my new post. I didn’t know what to do with it, if I ’m honest with you. It is a regret of mine now. There are many regrets that I’ve had in reviewing this evidence.”

The Inquiry continues.