Council: Liberton High death probe may take years

Keane Wallis-Bennett
Keane Wallis-Bennett
10
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ANSWERS on what led to the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett may not be made ­public for years due to the complexities of the investigation and the lengthy Scottish legal process for such cases.

The wall which killed the 12-year-old at Liberton High School is set to be rebuilt at a Health and Safety Executive(HSE) facility in England in an effort to discover what caused its collapse.

But concerns have been raised that the inqiury will face similar delays to the probe into the death of firefighter Ewan Williamson whose family are still waiting for answers almost five years after he died.

A senior council source admitted: “It is becoming clear this will take months, or even years, to sort out.”

No decision has yet been taken on whether there will be a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into Keane’s death. One will not automatically be held because she was a pupil rather than a member of staff. FAIs are only mandatory when someone dies as a result of an accident during the course of their employment. Any potential FAI would not be held until after the on-going police investigation - and any possible resulting court case - is complete.

The HSE are leading the probe into how the modesty wall collapsed on April 1 as Keane and her classmates were getting ready for a PE class.

They are working under the direction of the Crown Office, who say the investigation is at “an early stage”.

Full details of what happened when Ewan Williamson, 35, died on the night of July 12, 2009, while fighting a fire in the Balmoral Bar in Dalry, are still to emerge almost five years on.

Amid calls for reform of the FAI system, lawyers in the Capital warned families “routinely” have to wait years for answers following the death of loved ones in tragic circumstances.

Glen Millar, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors in Edinburgh, said: “The FAI system in Scotland is invariably a confusing and upsetting experience for relatives.

“There are routinely huge delays of several years before the Crown Office decides whether one will be held which is hugely frustrating for the families involved.”

One senior police source said he was “certain” that an FAI into the pupil’s death would be carried out, but Mr Millar said the Crown Office’s track record did not give cause for confidence.

“You only need to think of the recent FAI in Aberdeen following the Superpuma crash which took five years to be ­convened,” he said.

“Often the crown fails to hold an FAI where it seems obvious to others that one is required not just to give ­families the answers they deserve but to better protect the public by making recommendations to stop the same accident happening again.”

Parents’ representatives said families were desperate for reassurance in the wake of the tragedy. Lindsay Law, parent representative on the city council’s education committee, said: “Some people have said, ‘when will we know what happened?’ – but I think the important thing for parents is not necessarily how long an investigation will take but that the council are doing something now to make sure all schools are safe.”

Education bosses at the city council declined to comment on the probe into Keane’s death.

ANALYSIS

By Sarah Boyack, Lothian Labour MSP

LAST month trade union activists, councillors, MSPs, and MPs gathered together to commemorate International Workers Memorial Day - “Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living”. In preparing to speak at the event I was struck by how many incidents that there been just in the last decade that I’ve felt a connection with.

This summer will be the fifth anniversary of the death of Edinburgh firefighter Ewan Williamson. This Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the Stockline explosion in Maryhill, Glasgow. And the tragedy in Liberton High School and the Legionnaires outbreak two years ago remind us that it’s not just those at work who can be vulnerable.

We need due process, we need proper investigations, but we also need the wheels of justice to move faster.

It’s just a year since the Rana Plaza fire in Bangladesh where more than 1000 workers died and hundreds more were injured.

Too many anniversaries where survivors and their relatives are still waiting for justice. Too many months which have gone by without families knowing exactly what went wrong, why a tragedy happened, and what lessons will be learned for the future.

One positive change we could make would be to streamline the process surrounding Fatal Accident Inquiries. My colleague Patricia Ferguson MSP has been working on a Member’s Bill so that the Scottish Parliament can debate how

we can streamline Fatal Accident Inquiries and make the whole process work faster. In the case of the Stockline tragedy the absence of a Fatal Accident Inquiry means there has been no transparency and no chance for questions to be asked in public about an incident which happened a decade ago.

To prevent future tragedy and loss of life we need strong health and safety culture right across the public and private sectors. But we need an effective Fatal Accident Inquiry system so that relatives and workers get justice.