Ex-employee at firm that produced flammable insulation on Grenfell Tower says she wrote ‘WTF’ on fire test report when she first saw it

  • Debbie Berger, former product manager at Celotex, scribbled acronym on report
  • She used it as ‘expression of shock’ when she realised additional materials used
  • Firm used second system pass to erroneously market insulation as being safe 

A former employee at the firm responsible for the flammable insulation used on Grenfell Tower was so alarmed by the manipulation of a fire test she was left writing ‘WTF’, an inquiry has heard.

Debbie Berger, former product manager at Celotex, scribbled the acronym as an ‘expression of shock’ when she realised additional materials had been added to the company’s Rs5000 product to get it to pass a safety test.  

Ms Berger made the scribbles on a report document when she became a product manager for Rs5000 in 2014, just months after the test was passed.

It comes after the inquiry heard how Celotex, part of the French multinational Saint-Gobain group, ‘overengineered’ a test of Rs5000 in May 2014 to get a pass after a first test failure in January 2014.

Celotex added a 6mm fire-resisting magnesium oxide board to a cladding test rig and 8mm fibre cement panels were added over the magnesium oxide to ‘conceal’ its presence.  

Debbie Berger, former product manager at Celotex, scribbled the acronym ‘WTF’ when she realised additional materials had been added to the company’s Rs5000 product

Questioned about the marking at Thursday’s hearing, Ms Berger explained: ‘It’s shock, shorthand for shock that this could have happened.’

When pushed by inquiry lawyer Richard Millet QC as to why she did not raise the issue despite her shock, Ms Berger said it ‘receded’ from her mind as she took on a lot of information for her new role.

She added: ‘It really didn’t imprint itself. There was a lot of technical information that I was being shown at the time.

‘I remember talking about this and there was a lot of technical information, and some of it stuck, some of it didn’t.’

Ms Berger denied deliberately hiding the manipulation – which has been the focus of questioning for Celotex employees at a number of recent inquiry hearings.

She said: ‘If I had recalled it and known about it, I would have shared it with the management of Celotex because I shared other details, some of which weren’t talked about, I was honest about those.’

Suggesting she did not fully understand the detail, Ms Berger added: ‘I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I thought ‘it’s passed a test’.’

The inquiry previously heard how Celotex added a 6mm fire-resisting magnesium oxide to its Rs5000 to get it to pass a fire test

She said of her former employer: ‘I didn’t think Celotex would do this, I thought Celotex was a good company, I thought Celotex prided itself on doing the right thing and being honest, and I was really shocked by this.’

After a first test failure in January 2014, the second system which passed in May 2014 was used to erroneously market the combustible rigid foam boards as being safe for use on high-rise buildings such as Grenfell Tower.

Seventy-two people died as a result of the fire at the 24-storey tower when an electrical fault in a fridge-freezer sparked a catastrophic blaze which was fuelled by the building’s flammable cladding system. 

The inquiry continues.

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