Residents and business owners shut out by a cordon around the fire-ravaged Mackintosh building in Glasgow returned yesterday to find filth, flies and an overpowering stench of rotting food and rubbish.

A huge area has been fenced off since a blaze ripped through the renowned Glasgow School of Art (GSA) property on June 15.

Residents at more than 30 properties have been refused entry to collect items including passports, car keys, medicines, laptops and clothes since the fire.

Some were given thirty seconds to grab some belongings and run. Lucy Briscoe, 27, said: “I had no trousers on. I grabbed some clothes and they chivvied me along while I was doing it. My glasses broke while I was trying to get out. I couldn’t see anything. I was in my pants.”

Neighbour Chris Biggam, 36, was told by his insurance company that they wouldn’t cover his costs, as his Sauchiehall Street flat was “not uninhabitable”.

Glasgow City Council officials in high-visibility clothes and hard hats opened a path on Sauchiehall Street at 9.30am yesterday allowing people to filter through.

Angelo Varese, who owns the Blue Lagoon fish and chip shop in the area, opened the door yesterday to be met with an overpowering smell of mouldy potatoes.

He said: “It’s horrible, there’s a lot of rotting food, sacks of potatoes, made worse by the warm weather. A lot of food will have to be dumped and there’s a big cleaning job, but we hope to open as soon as possible.”

Newsagent Asif Bashir opened his shop door to find pre-packaged sandwiches with expiration dates that passed weeks ago and bins unemptied.

And the kitchen at neighbouring restaurant Antipasti was said to be “filthy”. Julie Douglas, who owns the restaurant with husband Neil, said: “A week of cleaning is needed. We’re going to reopen next Saturday.”

Margaret Gulline, who has managed the restaurant for 20 years, said it was "not pleasant” when she opened up yesterday. “I’m glad that we’re in – it’s been a long 10 weeks – but there was feathers all over the floor, and dirt. We’re thinking something has got in, but we can’t find it.

“It’s worse downstairs, where the kitchen is. A lot will be thrown out and we’re going to have to check with environmental health to see whether we can keep things like sealed bottles of spirits. For what it is, a bottle or two of gin, vodka and whisky, we’ll probably just chuck it out to be on the safe side. We’re going to have to spend to get the place ready for Saturday.”

The manager had to lay off part-time staff while the restaurant was closed, and she doesn’t yet know whether she’ll need to re-employ them.

She added: “We know we’ve got a struggle ahead of us to get the customers to come back. We don’t know how business is going to be. We can only hope coming up to Christmas we’ll pick up booking and we can rehire people.”

Residents said their properties were infested by flies and their fridges full of rotting food. Many will not return to the area, having signed new lease agreements elsewhere in the city, leaving landlords out of pocket.

One landlord, who uses website AirBnb to find short-term tenants, and who asked not to be named, said: “I only started trading at the end of May and I had to cease trading two weeks later. We had to close our bookings. We missed out on all of the booking we’d have got during the European Championships. I probably lost thousands of pounds and my mortgage is £900 a month. We’ve only had £180 back, through relief of business rates.”

She was also angry about “excessive force” used to access the property in Sauchiehall Street during the evacuation. The door frame was broken, and plasterwork was cracked.

She added: “They’ve rammed the internal doors to confirm evacuation. I’ll have to pay for the damage. I need that done now in order to resume trading on Monday.”

Some residents are yet to access their properties. A path on the east side of Dalhousie Street will not reopen until Monday morning, but some residents were given access for half an hour from 10am, under the supervision of Charing Cross Housing Association.

A council spokesman said three-metre metal pins had been inserted into the side of the Mackintosh building at Dalhousie Street to stop the wall collapsing.

Residents and business owners affected by the cordon had met earlier this week to discuss legal action as they said saving the building has been put before people's needs.

Solicitors at Govan Law Centre said it is looking at potential cases over the “abysmal” treatment residents and business owners.

A local authority spokesman said: "The cordon on the southside of Sauchiehall Street was pulled back as planned this morning to allow access for business owners and residents who wished to begin any work needed to restore their premises to normal.

"Dalhousie Street residents were given controlled access for around 30 minutes along with representatives from Charing Cross Housing Association to gather any essential belongings and assess the condition of their homes.

"It is expected the footway on Dalhousie Street will be fully reopened on Monday morning.

"Additional refuse collections have been put in place for the area to support any clearing out work undertaken by businesses and residents."


Lucy Briscoe, 27, woke to the sound of emergency services breaking down her front door. She lives in Sauchiehall Street, directly across from Jumpin’ Jaks nightclub.

Briscoe said: “I woke up when they wee breaking my door down. I ran towards it shouting, because I thought it was drunk people trying to get in. At the other side were eight police officers who told me I had thirty seconds to get out. I had not trousers on. I grabbed some clothes and they chivvied me along while I was doing it. My glasses broke while I was trying to get out. I couldn’t see anything. I was in my pants.

“I got left to my own devices. and when I got outside the pavement was littered with stuff. It was apocalyptic. I had to wave at the nearest fluorescent blur to get someone to help me.”

Briscoe, who is a journalist, was taken to the Mitchell Library where she was met by a social worker, who told her she would have to find somewhere to sleep that night. She stayed with a friend in Maryhill, thinking she would get back in to her flat the next day. That didn’t happen for ten weeks.

“It was fluid, they kept moving the goalposts,” she said. “It wasn’t clear for the first couple of weeks that it was going to be a long-term thing. It was not good. I’ve since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and I’m on medication. I’ve had to rent a different flat. I have no stuff, I’ve been sleeping on a sofa bed.”

Before she signed a new lease for a property in Trongate, Briscoe had to move to Bristol to live with relatives because she had nowhere else to go. Her employer gave her leave, then let her work remotely, and her landlord at Sauchiehall Street, Scott McMaster, stopped charging rent.

McMaster said: “This is an unprecedented situation and I wouldn’t expect a tenant to pay. However, the bank still wants mortgage payments from me, so I am out of pocket.”

Briscoe has no plans to return to Sauchiehall Street. She was given access for the first time in ten weeks yesterday, and she found the property full of flies with rotten food in the fridge.

“Everything is disgusting and covered in dust,” she added. “It’s going to take a long time until it’s liveable, so I’ve arranged to have all of my stuff taken out. Some friends are coming to help me move. It’s been hard but I have to get on with my life.”


Chris Biggam and Trent Kim have finally returned to their property on Saturday, ten weeks after they were evacuated. The pair were in their flat when the blaze took hold at the Mackintosh.

“It’s definitely a relief”, said Biggam. “I’m happy to get back into my own bed. I’ve been sleeping on a blow-up air mattress for ten weeks, but I’m very lucky to have been able to stay at my mum and dads.”

Biggam, 36, a research adviser at Glasgow Caledonian University, was forced to abandon his flat at 2.45am.

“We decided that when it reached the O2 ABC we would leave,” he said. “So, we packed our backpacks, got the things together for our wee dog, and the three of us left and went to Trent’s office.

“We asked our neighbour to leave with us, but he said he ‘I’ll wait till the firefighters tell me to go'.”

A visiting couple who were staying in an AirBnb property in the building, were forced to stay the night in the Mitchell library and then a homeless unit, Biggam said.

Residents of the building were initially told that the flats would be cordoned off for four or five days, so Biggam followed through with plans to go to Portugal.

“I thought that all the dust will have settled by the time I got back, but of course within days we knew this had happened,” he said.

Despite not being able to return to their home, the insurance company wouldn’t cover their costs, as the property was “not uninhabitable”.

The company did agree to cover repairs to the door which was damaged through forced entry.

“They also said they would cover us if it was smoke-damaged, which of course it wouldn’t be because it was so far away,” said Biggam. “I’ll not be using them again.”

Biggam had to spend thousand of pounds to replace vital work equipment. He said: “Many people’s work is all tied up with their home, so they’re not only homeless but unemployed. We spent thousands, about four to five thousand pounds, replacing essential items and work equipment.”

Trent Kim, 36, a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, was also forced to buy new equipment for a work conference in London.

The event was held two weeks after the fire, and he spent a total of £1,000 on broadcast equipment.

“We were still paying mortgage interest as well, nothing made sense," said Kim.

Biggam added: “They could have given us ten minutes to get what we needed. They had all these folk inside the cordons who have special training – we could have done some training in ten weeks.

“I used to work with a finance company and they had a salvage team who had a disaster recovery plan for when people couldn’t gain access because of fires and floods. They would document it on three maps, with special instructions on where to find the items. Why didn’t they do that?”