Free-standing wall axed over school safety fears

Hermitage Park Primary, where potential defects have been highlighted. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Hermitage Park Primary, where potential defects have been highlighted. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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A FREE-STANDING wall at an Edinburgh primary school has been demolished after structural checks in the wake of the Liberton High tragedy.

Keane Wallis-Bennett, 12, was killed when a free-standing collapsed on her at Liberton High on Tuesday.

Keane Wallis-Bennett. Picture: Facebook

Keane Wallis-Bennett. Picture: Facebook

Now a similar wall at a bike shed at Craiglockhart Primary has been knocked down.

The demolition comes after inspections were carried out at 200 city council properties, including all primary, secondary, special and nursery schools.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce said: “Since Tuesday’s tragic incident, we have acted swiftly to provide reassurance to parents, pupils and the people of Edinburgh that we will do everything in our power to prevent anything like this happening again.

“Over 200 council facilities have now been inspected, including all primary, secondary, special and nursery schools, plus sports, leisure and community centres. Our focus has been on identifying and inspecting free-standing walls.

Keane's father, Clark Bennett. Picture: contributed

Keane's father, Clark Bennett. Picture: contributed

“A member of staff at Craiglockhart Primary School made us aware of an external free-standing wall which he felt merited further inspection and, as a result, this has now been removed.”

She added: “We will use the Easter holiday period to determine what, if any, further action is required across our estate.”

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The Evening News can also reveal two primaries have erected barriers around suspect playground walls after separate concerns were raised by the inspectors.

The safety checks have now been extended to leisure centres, sports pavilions and other ­facilities over the city which may have structures like the “modesty” wall which collapsed in the Liberton changing room.

A team of police officers are still probing what caused the wall to collapse, with assistance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Meanwhile, tributes have continued to grow to the youngster outside Liberton High.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce, who has taken personal charge of the investigation, said all necessary steps would be taken to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

She said: “We are determined to provide reassurance to parents, pupils and the people of Edinburgh that we will do everything in our power to prevent anything like this happening again. It is vitally important that we understand the cause of this tragedy and we are continuing to work closely with Police Scotland.

“I have been in regular contact with the Scottish Government and have highlighted to them the course of action we are taking.”

Nine walls in changing rooms and toilets at Castlebrae High and Leith Academy have been cordoned off after being identified by inspectors as similar to the structure at Liberton.

There is no evidence they are unsafe but options including knocking them down or extending the partitions to the ceiling are now being considered.

Elsewhere, anxious heads at 11 primary schools have highlighted smaller free standing walls, some of which support wash basins.

Many have erected barriers to alleviate the fears of pupils’ families while further checks are made during the Easter break.

Surveyors also tested external walls in playgrounds where concerns were raised and found potential defects at Hermitage Park and Parson’s Green.

They have since been fenced off to pupils and the public pending a more detailed survey by structural engineers.

Fiona Kenny, a member of East Craigs Primary parent council, one of the schools where concerns have been raised, said she believes more thorough condition surveys are needed.

The mum of two children in P1 and P3, said: “If there are similar walls then they have to be removed immediately – people’s safety is paramount.

“We’re seeking assurance from the council that infrastructure in all schools is safe. If £30 million has been identified over five years to come it means the council does not have the money – and £30m is the minimum. The question still arises of whether schools meet minimum health and safety standards.”

Susan Heron, vice-chair of Castlebrae Community High parent council, added: “I would be really worried if there were similar walls at Castlebrae and I would hope that after the tragedy and if it has been highlighted, the money would be put in to make them as safe as they possibly can be for children.

“If that means knocking down walls, then that’s the ­action that should be taken.”

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, called for a five-year plan to invest the £30m in the most dilapidated schools to be accelerated.

Green education spokeswoman Councillor Melanie Main said bringing forward borrowing needs to be considered.

The inquiry is expected to take at least several weeks. Police Scotland would not disclose how many officers were working on the investigation, only that “appropriate ­resources” were in place.

A city council spokesman confirmed last night that no-one had been suspended over the tragedy. An HSE spokeswoman said the inquiry remained ongoing.

ON THE LIST

There are 15 schools across the Capital which have been identified as having potentially unsafe walls.

• St Mary’s London Street Primary

• Ferryhill Primary

• Abbeyhill Primary

• Cramond Primary

• Leith Primary

• Leith Walk Primary

• Lorne Primary

• Royal Mile Primary

• Brunstane Primary

• East Craigs Primary

• Gylemuir Primary

• Hermitage Park Primary *

• Parson’s Green Primary *

• Leith Academy

• Castlebrae High

* Playground walls, all others are internal

Keane’s father leaves flowers and a note

KEANE Wallis-Bennett’s father laid a bouquet of red roses and a touching note at Liberton High.

Clark Bennett, 47, placed the tribute at the school gates yesterday.

A card left with the flowers read: “To my princess. Never forgotten Budgie. Daddy. XX.”

The twelve red roses were laid beside dozens of tributes placed by family and friends of the 12-year-old. A family member, who asked not to be named, said Keane’s mother, Abbie Wallis, 34, was “going through hell”.

Joe Armstrong, 54, whose daughter was in the changing room 30 minutes before the tragedy, said: “Parents are angry.”

FRIENDS IN FACEBOOK PHOTO TRIBUTE

MANY friends of Keane Wallis-Bennett have changed their Facebook picture profiles to images of the 12-year-old as they mourn her death.

Their moving tribute comes as thousands more people have joined tribute pages dedicated to Keane on the social networking site.

Meanwhile, a fundraising event being held on April 18 by friends of fellow Liberton High School pupil Jamie Skinner, who died in December while playing football, will now also remember Keane.

The pair shared many of the same friends who have been left devastated by the latest tragedy on Tuesday – the day Jamie would have turned 14.

The friends plan to hang photos of Keane at the fundraiser and video the event.

Keane’s sister, Kirsty Nicolson-Bennett, has given her support to the event and asked its organisers on Facebook for a copy of the video to be sent to her.

In a simple tribute on the page, Kirsty wrote: “I just can’t believe this happened.”

Kirsty has changed her Facebook profile picture to an image of herself and her late sister.

Other youngsters have created collages of photographs of Keane as a celebration of her life. Nearly 18,000 people had joined the page RIP Keane Wallis-Bennett last night.

One of her friends posted a handwritten letter on the page which read: “Dear Keane. You were beautiful and amazing. I love you and it won’t be the same without you. We want you back.”