EXPERTS have categorically rejected claims by the Glasgow School of Art that its key fire protection system could not have been in place at the time of last year’s blaze.

Independent fire expert Stephen Mackenzie said he was "incredibly puzzled" to hear bosses ripped out a mist suppression system which it is claimed had largely survived the first incident in 2014.

The world-renowned Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was destroyed last June while it was undergoing a £35 million restoration programme following a fire four years earlier.

Giving evidence at Holyrood’s Culture Committee, which is examining the circumstances surrounding the second blaze, Mr Mackenzie accused GSA bosses of weak communication and raised concerns key documents had not been disclosed.

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He said: “There are significant concerns about the voids, errors and omissions in the current evidence pack that’s been submitted.”

However, GSA robustly rejected his evidence. In a statement, it said: “The specific submission from Stephen Mackenzie would appear to have not been based on a thorough analysis of the GSA’s own written submission and oral evidence. 

“Over the course of the next week, the GSA will be providing the committee with supplementary evidence and reports or other specific information requested by them, in order to inform the committee’s further deliberations.”

It came after it emerged a mist suppression system used to fight fires was removed from the GSA after 2014’s fire, despite claims it had survived the flames largely intact.

HeraldScotland:

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott asked Mr Mackenzie: "The committee wasn't told it was removed after the first fire and we are all puzzled as to why it would have been removed. Why would it have been removed?"

Mr Mackenzie said: "I'm also puzzled as an expert."

Mr Scott then asked: "Do you think there would have been a good argument for retaining that system until such time as other things were developed, if that was your fire prevention proposal for the future?"

Mr Mackenzie said: "Categorically I've stated there should have been a temporary or phased installation and that could've been part of that basis. I'm incredibly puzzled to now hear… that this has occurred."

The fire expert called for a full forensic investigation or public inquiry, and said there had been a “number of erroneous positions and statements that won’t stand up to expert interrogation”.

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Meanwhile, he categorically rejected a statement by the GSA insisting there was no mist suppression system “that could have been operational in the Mack prior to the completion of the build phase”.

He said: “I would reject that statement in its entirety.”

Conservation architect Dawson Stelfox, who was giving evidence alongside him, added: “There are temporary fire suppression systems which are available on the market. I would agree.”

Elsewhere, Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer raised concerns GSA bosses chose to fundraise for a fire suppression system while spending cash in other areas – including an expanding property portfolio.

Historic Environment Scotland representatives told MSPs they could not offer any financial support for a new build of the Mackintosh building as grants are for the repair and conservation of existing historic fabric.

A GSA spokeswoman said: "As a result of the 2014 fire, considerable elements of the system were destroyed or damaged. The GSA sought expert advice which indicated that this system was unusable.

"As you would expect, the GSA wanted to take advantage of improvements in the technology and install the best system for the building.

"The installation time for the replacement system in the post-2014 restoration would have been broadly similar irrespective of the type of system commissioned."

Committee convener Joan McAlpine said members will now consider all the evidence they have heard and publish their findings and conclusions in due course.