Liberton death wall rebuilt in accident inquiry

Keane Wallis-Bennett. Picture: contributed
Keane Wallis-Bennett. Picture: contributed
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THE modesty wall which came down on Keane Wallis-Bennett at Liberton High is being rebuilt as part of the investigation into her death, the Evening News can reveal.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officers have taken charge of the probe and are carrying out a piece-by-piece reconstruction of the wall, which collapsed on top of Keane as she was getting ready for a PE class on April 1.

The painstaking operation will offer investigators crucial new insights into what exactly caused the “wobbly” structure to disintegrate and crush the 12-year-old.

It is believed reconstruction is being carried out at a top-level facility in England, with HSE officers working under the direction of the Crown Office.

Critics today said city leaders faced a “catch-22”, adding that the latest development indicated the lethal wall at Liberton was either shoddily built or not maintained properly.

A police source said: “One of the problems they have got is that once you are subject to a health and safety inspectorate inspection, coming out of that looking good is very hard because there is always something wrong. What is absolutely key is was the wall built properly? If the answer is yes, then it’s poor maintenance; if the answer’s no, it was a fundamental design fault.

“The council is culpable either which way. It’s a no-win. Either it wasn’t built properly or it wasn’t maintained properly – either way you’re caught. It’s purely catch-22.”

It is understood reconstruction of the gym wall is taking place at a facility similar to the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) at Buxton in Derbyshire.

HSL experts investigate hundreds of incidents each year and are capable of transporting collapsed objects as large as tower cranes to specialist labs for further examination.

This can include erecting complex structures to replicate tragic situations in which accidents happened.

Reconstructions of buildings and machines which suddenly collapse or are destroyed have been a key feature of probes into several notorious catastrophes.

Investigators looking into the Lockerbie atrocity painstakingly put together a large part of Pan Am flight 103’s fuselage wreckage, which was recovered from a huge area after the aircraft exploded.

“They will be looking for any sort of structural or design weaknesses,” the police source told the Evening News.

“My understanding is that when the wall became shaky, one of the habits of the pupils was to run at the wall and kick it to see if it would shake.

“There are two things here – the strength of the structure and how well was it designed when it was built. Was it designed and built properly or was it just poorly maintained?”

City leaders said they were doing all they could to help investigators get to the bottom of what happened and prevent a repeat of the tragic death.

A council spokeswoman said: “Since the incident, 
over 200 schools and other facilities across the city have been inspected, focusing on free-standing walls, and various precautionary works were carried out over the Easter holidays.

“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.”

She added: “It’s vitally important that we understand the cause of this tragedy and we are continuing to work very closely with Police Scotland, and the Health and Safety Executive, as part of their ongoing investigations.”

News of the gym wall’s reconstruction came the day after Keane’s mother, Abbie, 34, opened up about the torment she has suffered after her daughter died of “multiple injuries” sustained during last month’s incident.

She said: “I’m not angry at anyone – I’m just incredibly sad. Keane never mentioned the wall or anything dangerous.

“I’m aware of other people talking about it, but it’s not something I’ve even thought about.”

Ms Wallis told how she carries the box containing Keane’s ashes with her to the shops, sits them in front of the TV when her favourite TV programme is on and kisses them before going to bed.

She said she and son Ryan, 11, curl up in Keane’s bedroom and say goodnight to her.

“Eventually I want to use [Keane’s ashes] to make a ring for myself and for her best friend, as well as a piece of jewellery for Ryan,” she said. “That way I’ll always have a part of her with me.”

Last month, at least 400 mourners – many sporting brightly coloured onesies – gathered in Mortonhall crematorium to bid a final farewell to the “smart and compassionate” school pupil, also a devoted One Direction fan.

Crown Office officials said the investigation into Keane’s death – previously led by Police Scotland – was still at an “early stage”. A spokesman said: “The procurator fiscal has received a report on April 1. The investigation into the death is being conducted by Police Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive under the direction of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Health and Safety Division.

“The investigation is at an early stage and the family will be kept updated in relation to any significant developments.”

A Police Scotland spokesman added: “As part of a multi-agency investigation into the death of a 13-year-old girl at Liberton High School, the Health and Safety Executive are now leading on inquiries.

“Police Scotland will continue to support our relevant partners during the course of this investigation.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com