A LONE figure caught on CCTV near the Glasgow School of Art on the night of a second devastating fire has never been traced amid fears that wilful fire raising was the cause of the blaze, a report has revealed.

Three-and-a-half years after the event, the figure caught in the darkness near the blaze has never been traced and the image has never been released.

The report also found the world-renowned Mackintosh Building may not have had adequate fire prevention methods in place, including fully-covered CCTV.

But the long-awaited report has concluded that the cause of the fire that ravaged the building for a second time may never be known but wilful fire-raising and electrical failure cannot be “fully discounted”.

HeraldScotland:

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has published findings of its investigation into the fire on June 15, 2018, that caused catastrophic damage to the building as it neared the end of a £35 million restoration project following a previous blaze in May 23, 2014.

It makes a series of recommendations which suggest the Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece could have been better protected.

Fifty per cent of the building was said to be well alight within 38 minutes of the arrival of firefighters.

The investigation is said to have been the most complex and resource-intensive ever undertaken by the SFRS.

The report listed a number of potential causes and said accidental ignition by something such as a cigarette could not be fully ruled out, as well as an electrical failure or a deliberate fire.

It found that coverage of the entire scaffolding structure was not provided, which suggests that a person, or persons, could have accessed the building via the structure, undetected.

CCTV footage taken from the Sports Complex Building of St Aloysius College captured a lone figure in the carpark approximately three hours after discovery of the fire. They were never traced by Police Scotland.

The individual was captured in a car park near the fire, watching the blaze for 78 minutes.

The report found that the timeframe concerning this individual did not coincide with the outbreak of fire, however, involvement earlier in wilful fire raising activity “could not be fully discounted”.

HeraldScotland:

Ross Haggart, SFRS Deputy Chief Officer, said that despite intense scrutiny of “every aspect” of the fire, the cause has been recorded as undetermined.

Glasgow School of Art management said it would consider the report’s findings and the implications for “all aspects” of the planned restoration, which was agreed last October.

The SFRS said it is also possible that the system supplying electricity to the office areas on level two could have suffered a fault condition in an unknown location.

Mr Haggart said: “Unfortunately, almost everything within the building was severely damaged or consumed in the fire and that included any potential items of evidence that could have provided those answers.”

Kier Construction Limited was appointed in June 2016 as the main contractor for the restoration project. The firm did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment.

The report says lessons should be learned for other  construction projects, particularly those involving buildings of cultural significance.

It It said management teams responsible for delivery of construction or renovation projects should ensure that, during the early planning stages of the project, they fully consider the risk of fire.

When construction work commences, a comprehensive Fire Risk Assessment (FRA), should identify suitable and sufficient control measures are implemented to mitigate risks.

HeraldScotland:

Consideration should not only be given to protection of life, but also to protection of property at significant risk or of national importance.

The report outlines how the alarm was raised at 11.19pm on Friday, June 15, 2018, to reports of fire within the Mack Building on Renfrew Street.

The neighbouring O2 ABC and other premises were also damaged in the fire.

The first SFRS appliances arrived on scene within six minutes and at its height, more than 120 firefighters worked to contain and then extinguish the fire. There were no casualties and firefighting operations continued for a further 10 days.

The report concludes it is likely the fire started on the east side on or above level four of the Mackintosh Building.

An unlimited air supply fed through the duct system is said to have intensified the fire, promoting “uncontrolled fire growth and rapid development”. The investigation involved the excavation and physical examination of hundreds of tonnes of fire-damaged debris and careful analysis of witness testimonies, CCTV and photographic footage.

According to the SFRS it got underway as the fire took hold on June 15, 2018 and continued through to September 30, 2021.”

The report into the 2014 fire, which destroyed the school’s library, took less than six months to complete and identified the cause of the blaze as gases from a foam canister used in a student project.

Muriel Gray announced in September last year she would be stepping down as chairwoman of GSoA.

HeraldScotland:

Last year art school chiefs said rebuilding the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building as a “faithful reinstatement” of the one destroyed by fire three years ago is the preferred option for its future.

Mr Haggart said: “Our investigation into the devastating fire at the Glasgow School of Art has been a deeply complex and protracted process.

“Due to the nature of the ongoing restoration and construction works combined with other factors such as the air supply into the building, the fire was unfortunately able to take hold, spread and ultimately cause catastrophic damage. This presented a number of challenges to our investigation, namely

working within a structurally dangerous site to physically examine hundreds of tonnes of debris which was up to four metres in height and heavily compacted.

“We are of course acutely aware of the cultural significance of the Mackintosh building and the pressing needs for answers.

“We scrutinised every aspect of this fire to ensure our investigation was as robust and thorough as possible.

“We were unable to find sufficient evidence to support any credible origin and it has not been possible to establish a definitive cause.”

HeraldScotland:

“However we have made a number of recommendations including the introduction of new mechanisms to enhance information sharing around ongoing construction projects within Scotland to ensure the safety of our firefighters and our communities.”

Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour MSP for Glasgow said the report would be disappointing for the residents and businesses who “suffered so much” because of this fire.

She said: “They expected answers and this report does not provide them.

“What is clear is that lessons must be learned from this tragedy.

“The design of the building seems to allow fires to take hold and spread quickly once they occur.

“This was known following the first fire and strenuous measures should have been in place to mitigate that risk. Those precautions must be in place as the rebuilding moves forward.

“We must also learn from the mistakes made in the treatment of displaced residents and local businesses.

“The School of Art is an iconic and important institution in our city and of course the loss it has endured is heart breaking, but with two serious fires in 5 years, it is time that another body assumed responsibility for the oversight of the Art School rebuild.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“We will carefully consider the need to strengthen fire safety guidance in light of the Fire Service’s report and recommendations.

 

“The Glasgow School of Art’s commitment to a full lessons learned exercise is welcome.

"We would expect them to take on board the report’s recommendations and engage fully with the local community and relevant stakeholders as it progresses plans to reinstate the Mackintosh building.”