Liberton High: Council may face £1m damage claim

Tributes to Keane Wallis-Bennett pile up at Liberton High School. Picture: TSPL
Tributes to Keane Wallis-Bennett pile up at Liberton High School. Picture: TSPL
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COUNCIL chiefs could be open to damages claims of up to £1 million if they are proved to be negligent in the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett.

The modesty wall which collapsed and killed the 12-year-old at Liberton High School had allegedly been reported as “wobbly” by pupils.

Legal experts specialising in compensation cases said any prior warnings about the wall’s safety could provide a “very strong case to support negligence” and could see each of Keane’s parents, Abbie and Clark, awarded six-figure sums in damages.

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And under recent changes to the law, other relatives of Keane, such as her brother and sister, could likely receive five-figure sums for the “grief and sorrow” they suffered.

As the occupiers of Liberton High, Edinburgh City Council would be named in any legal claim for damages mounted by the family. The local authority would be sued under the Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960, section 2. A leading Edinburgh-based compensation lawyer said if a case were to be brought, it could prove costly. The legal expert said: “If it is correct that there were prior warnings about the wall, there is a very strong case to support negligence on their part.

“Keane’s relatives could look to recover compensation for distress and anxiety endured in contemplation of Keane’s suffering before her death, and their grief and sorrow afterwards.”

Under the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011, relatives who can lodge claims would include Keane’s parents and brother and sister, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

The lawyer added: “Each relative may be awarded compensation. In practice, if court proceedings were raised, it is likely that a single action with multiple pursuers would be raised against the council.

“The tragically young age of this girl will likely result in higher compensation than cases involving the deaths of victims in, say, their 20s or 30s.”

Although any lawyers representing Keane’s family may formally seek £1m in damages, most legal teams will claim for around double what they expect to be awarded in court.

Stephen Hay, head of litigation at Edinburgh law firm Gildeas, said the tragedy throws up a number of questions.

He said: “It has been reported that pupils had said the wall was not stable prior to the incident in question.

“If reports are to be believed, a number of questions have to be asked: Who was told about the wall not being stable? If someone was told why did they not pass on this information? If they did pass on the information what was done with it? If the information has been passed to the council and they failed to act there will be serious questions for the council to answer, both at a civil and criminal level.”

In a civil case, only the city council and any other organisations alleged to be involved in negligence would be defendants, with any individuals unlikely to be named as 
co-defendants.

If a criminal charge is ever brought over Keane’s death, an organisation would be the most probable defendant rather than a named person.

Mr Hay said it was “unlikely” pupils affected by Keane’s death would be able to make legal claims for “pain and suffering”.

He added: “They will have to endure it as they come to terms with seeing one of their classmates taken from them in school.

“Clearly the family and extended family will be able to seek compensation but what price can be placed on the loss of a 12-year-old girl?”

The city council found itself at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in February and fined £8000 for breaching health and safety regulations at Liberton High School.

The fine came after Morgan Seaton, then 15, was seriously injured after falling 20ft down the school lift shaft. The teenager suffered three broken vertebrae, bruising to her back and a sprained wrist after tumbling down the lift shaft on December 8, 2011.

The council had failed to make a suitable risk assessment to the health and safety of lift users, and failed to provide sufficient training to employees over how to act if anyone became trapped.

At present an investigation into the tragic circumstances is ongoing and no culpability on any part has been suggested or established.

LANTERNS RELEASED

FRIENDS of Keane will tonight release Chinese lanterns and balloons as they remember her.

The touching tribute which will see “friends and locals” gather to pay tribute was announced on Twitter.

A friend of Keane’s said: “It was so sudden. People just need to come together to remember her. We’re all still in shock.”

A similar tribute was held earlier in the year following the death of three-year-old Mikaeel Kular.

Parents demand urgent action to upgrade classrooms

PARENTS at two primary schools waiting years for repairs have demanded immediate action to bring classrooms up to scratch.

Nether Currie Primary, top, received a ‘C’ – or poor – rating in the most recent school condition survey published at the end of last year, with Gracemount Primary, below, found to be in danger of slipping into the same category.

Education chiefs have lined up both schools for a share of a £30 million pot earmarked for repairs at the neediest campuses over the next five years.

But frustrated families said the survey results were unacceptable and urged city bosses to bring the work forward.

University lecturer Paul Langford, who has a son at Nether Currie Primary, said: “If they are priorities then the council need to be taking rapid action. It should be quicker than five years – I can see why people would say that.

“Nether Currie is a nice school and it gets good results. But I think they need to be looking at it in terms of how they can accelerate these works.”

Monica Woods, whose children, Jason, seven, and Adam, five, attend the school, urged the council to act without delay and said a wait of up to five years was too long.

She said: “It is worrying if there are problems. If things need to be done to the school then they should definitely be done now, not years later.

“I’ve never seen any issues in the school myself. I’m hoping the new head is doing their job properly and everything is safe.”

A mum-of-three, who asked not to be named, said she was shocked at news of the Liberton tragedy, adding it was imperative lessons are learned by council leaders.

She said: “What has happened is horrendous and it does make you think about your kid going to school. You have to have faith in the authorities that they’ll keep your kids safe at school and that buildings are up to scratch.”

She said the biggest tribute to Keane would be for steps to be taken to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s “shocking” event.

Meanwhile, Midlothian’s Newbattle High has emerged as one of three Scottish secondary schools listed in the “D” category, meaning its condition is officially classed as “bad”.