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Critic of Art School board loses job fight but says he was right to speak out after fires

© Andrew CawleyFirefighters the morning after 2018 blaze
Firefighters the morning after 2018 blaze

One of the most outspoken critics of Glasgow School of Art’s board has lost his appeal against unfair dismissal.

However, leading architect Gordon Gibb says he has no regrets about speaking out after publicly questioning the school’s management after two fires at the A-listed Charles Rennie Mackintosh building and feels he has done the “honourable thing”.

Gibb, who was director of professional studies at GSA, was sacked for breach of contract after criticising the school board in newspapers, including The Sunday Post, on social media and to Holyrood’s culture committee.

In 2019 the committee found the Glasgow School of Art board had not given sufficient priority to safeguarding the Mackintosh building. It expressed concern about the time it took for a mist suppression system to be installed, which was not in place when the second fire broke out.

Gibb said in a statement to the committee that the school’s senior staff bore “a measure of responsibility” for failing to prevent the fire. He was sacked two years ago after working at the art school for 16 years.

Glasgow School of Art: Priceless. Irreplaceable. Unprotected?

A judgment by Employment Tribunals (Scotland) dismissed his claim of unfair dismissal, ruling he was guilty of “repeated conduct so serious that dismissal was the appropriate action”. Reacting to the ruling, Gibb said: “Like everyone else, I was horrified by the loss of the Mack building to a second fire, four years after the first.

“With my specialist knowledge, I investigated the causes of the spread of the two fires and the management issues surrounding them. What I found was that the protection of the building had never been prioritised. I was surprised and shocked to find the school refused to show any contrition or even accept any responsibility for what had happened.

“When they delivered incorrect evidence at the parliamentary committee, I felt it was my duty to address the issues that they had obfuscated upon and to correct the record.

“Given my role in the school to teach professionalism and ethics to architects, I could not see I could have done anything other than that.

“It was the right thing to do and the honourable thing to do, and I have no regrets whatsoever. It was the only course of action I could take.”

A four-year investigation by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) into the second blaze failed to find the cause because of the extent of the damage.

Scott Parsons, GSA director of strategy and marketing, said: “This process has been difficult for everyone involved including Gordon, and our hope is that this clear judgement from the tribunal now provides closure.”