Glasgow School of Art has admitted a failure to provide adequate fire protection for the world-renowned Mackintosh Building in the wake of its 2014 fire caused the devastation of a repeat blaze four years later.

But the Herald can reveal that it has blamed advice it received from Glasgow-based Arrest Fire and Security Ltd specialists over fire alarm and protection measures brought in for what is a national treasure and is currently suing them for damages which could run into millions.

GSA claims an effective protection system would have provided an earlier warning to firefighters of the blaze that could have eliminated the devastating spread to neighbouring properties.

GSA say it is embroiled in a number of live court actions over the disastrous 2018 fire and that it is their insurers that are making the legal decisions.

The Herald previously revealed that a six-year failure to reach an agreement over the "complex" insurance claim over the Mack blaze is believed to have contributed to what has been described as "inertia" over its £100m+ reinstatement.

Arrest has told the Herald it is "100%" contesting the GSA allegations insisting that their system installed while restoration works were being carried should not be blamed and that the school's version of events was "incorrect".

The Herald: Arrest's premises in  Glasgow.

Alan Stewart, one of the directors of Arrest said the company would be put out of business if the court found that the blame for what happened was on their shoulders and that the costs ran into millions.

He said that despite the dispute they still look after "every single" GSA building for fire alarms.

The Mack in Glasgow’s Garnethill area, was completed in 1909 and was originally designed by renowned Scots architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and considered to be his masterpiece. It was judged to be unique by architectural experts who pointed to the fact that it was a working art school as well as a work of art.

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In May 2014 the building was destroyed by a fire which also destroyed the iconic Mackintosh library. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service concluded that the 2014 fire broke out after flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam used in a student project were ignited after coming into contact with the hot surface of a projector.

Voids in the walls and old ventilation ducts allowed the fire to take hold and spread upwards towards the library.

Four years later another major blaze tore through the building also causing major damage to neighbouring properties such as the O2 ABC venue.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service completed its report two years ago and was unable to determine a cause while the work to clear the site continued.

Despite warnings after the 2014 blaze, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) stated that "it was understood" that automatic sprinklers had not been fully fitted due to the building undergoing refurbishment.

The Herald can reveal that a review of the GSA estate's functionality and ‘usability’ which was undertaken in 2016 by consultants, two years before the second blaze rated the building condition at the lowest rating of D - which meant it was "inoperable or at serious risk of major failure or breakdown".

The art school is currently in the throes of a damages action against Glasgow-based Arrest which installed temporary fire and security devices in the building before the fire in 2018. Arguments in relation to the case are expected to be concluded by next Thursday.

Legal papers associated with the case, seen by the Herald, reveal that the GSA allege Arrest was in breach of its "duty of care" over the design and installation of its fire alarm and protection systems which it claimed was not effective enough.

The Herald: GSA blaze

They say that a more effective fire alarm and fire protection system would have meant that the fire would have been detected earlier and would also have "reduced the potential spread of a fire of the nature that occurred..."

GSA's legal team added: "The property would then have suffered materially lesser damage as a result of the fire and damage to neighbouring properties would have been restricted (if not eliminated)."

Questions over how the Mack was protected from the fire were raised immediately after the 2014 blaze.

And according to GSA, on or about the day of the 2014 fire, architects firm Page/Park offered its services in relation to further works that would be required on the Mack.

They say the scope of the work was to undertake extended to the preparation of a fire safety strategy, including protection, detection and escape.

GSA say that Paisley-based construction firm Taylor & Fraser Ltd was given a multi-works contract to prepare the Mack for the rebuild process, five months after the fire.

Taylor & Fraser say that at the end of 2014, they were given instructions by GSA to employ the Oakbank Trading Estate-based Arrest - which trades as Arrest 24:7 and was established in 1999 to install a fire alarm system.

GSA say Arrest's proposal was for the design of a Category L automatic fire detection and alarm system.

There are five levels within this category, each offering a different level of fire protection, with L1 fire alarm systems offering the highest level of life protection.

GSA say Arrest proposed third level L3 protection which the school said did not allow for a level of cover that would serve to protect the fabric of the Mack.

It says that Arrest failed to consider and advise on the need for better protection, including a Category P1 system.

This would provide property protection in light of the Mack's "iconic status as a heritage building".

The main objective of a Category P1 fire alarm system is to provide the earliest possible warning of a fire to minimise the time between ignition and the arrival of firefighters.

A P1 system is designed to protect the whole building, whereas a P2 system is installed in defined parts of the building only. These defined parts of the building may be areas with an extraordinary high fire risk or hazard.

The Herald: Fires began in the Mackintosh building twice in the space of four years

GSA says in its claim: "A fire alarm designer and installer of ordinary competence would have identified the need for specification of at least P1 level.

"The property was a historic building, containing large numbers of exposed ducts and a lack of compartmentation.

"These factors [were] required to be taken into account by the defender in any fire alarm or fire protection design for the property...

"[Arrest], however, failed to consider, or design (or advise of the need to design) a system that included placing fire detectors in or around the ducts or advise that this would be prudent to do so..."

GSA added: "But for [Arrest's] breaches of duty the [GSA] would not suffer or have suffered such loss and damage.

"Had [Arrest] met its obligations, this would have given rise to a more effective fire alarm and fire protection system being in place in the property on June 15, 2018.

Glasgow School of Art fires: read the series in full here

"This would, in turn, have meant that the fire which occurred would, at the least, have been detected at an earlier stage...

"It would also have reduced the potential spread of a fire of the nature that occurred...

"The property would then have suffered materially lesser damage as a result of the fire and damage to neighbouring properties would have been restricted (if not eliminated).

"In these circumstances, the defender is liable to the [GSA] in damages... in reparation for the loss suffered by the [GSA] as a result of those breaches."

Arguments from both side are expected in the court battle are expected to be complete by Wednesday.

The Herald:

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service investigation in the wake of the 2018 fire found that a fire warning system was fitted throughout the site, consisting of a fire alarm panel, break glass call points, sounders, and detection units for smoke and carbon monoxide and that this "should have provided early warning in case of fire in unoccupied areas".

But the service said it was "unclear" whether the system met the requirements of British Standard (BS)5839 or if any testing or maintenance procedures were in place.

It reveals that the first possible indication of fire in the vicinity was noticed 1 hour and 34 minutes before the first 999 call at 11.19pm on the day of the fire.

Fire crews were on the scene within six minutes but witnesses at the time said the iconic building was already ablaze “from top to bottom”.

The SFRS probe states that there was evidence that there had been a number of faults ongoing with the fire warning system (FWS) and scaffolding movement alarm systems (SMAS).

"There is no evidence to indicate anything unusual or untoward in or around the building earlier that day or during the evening although, it has been evidenced in statements that a number of faults were ongoing with the SMAS and the FWS. There is no record of the faults in either system (these were lost in the fire), so the nature of the faults remains unclear.

The Herald: SFRS's images of the fire warning system control panel after the 2018 blaze.

"There was no indication of activity on CCTV, the FWS did not sound, the SMAS did not activate and there was no new fault tone or localised signal from any of these systems," the investigation analysis said.

MSPs are known to have questioned whether the fire alarm system was operational on the night of the fire but the Scottish Parliament's culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs committee in its assessment said it was "not in a position to determine whether it was switched on and fully operational".

Keir Construction which was awarded the original contract for the Mackintosh restoration project following a procurement process said the alarm system was operational and had been tested.

The fire alarm could be switched off in instances where particular work is being carried out.

Keir Construction has said that while the fire alarms were switched off at different stages to accommodate specific works they could not say whether the alarm had been switched off on the day of the fire.

Arrest's website still advertises that it provided fire protection services for GSA.

It states: "As an experienced fire and security company, Arrest Security... completed a range of services at all sites of the [GSA]. Providing a wealth of bespoke security solutions for this client, our dedicated team of engineers installed multiple intruder alarms, fire systems, CCTV and access control systems at all sites including the famous Mackintosh building.

"As Scotland's only public self-governing art school, Arrest Security were delighted to undertake the... installations and takeovers for Glasgow School of Art.

"The bespoke security package offered by Arrest Security adhered to all current regulations to ensure all buildings within the school remain compliant in terms of health and safety and safeguard human life at all times."

Mr Stewart of Arrest said: "You have to understand that there was two alarm systems to be installed - one for when the building was complete, and the sprinkler system was to be installed, and we were asked to put in a temporary fire alarm that could not meet British standards because there was no roof on the building.

"Most areas, if not all areas had protection and detection within those areas. The fire alarm would never have triggered any sooner with any more detection.

"If the claim is huge and above the value of our insurance cover, there could be a case against my company to offset costs, which we don't want as it would put us out of business.

"I personally think it is a fight amongst insurance companies."

A GSA spokesman said: "There are a number of live court actions which have been raised in the name of GSA but are being run by our insurers in relation to the 2018 fire.

"The raising of these actions is a step that insurers are legally entitled to take. Insurers are therefore taking the decisions in relation to the content and conduct of those actions and it would be inappropriate for GSA to comment further."