SHOCKED classmates of schoolgirl Keane Wallis-Bennett have described hearing “a deep rumbling” moments before the 12-year-old was crushed by the tumbling wall.
A major investigation was underway today to establish exactly how the “wobbly” wall toppled after pupils said it had been unstable “for months” and staff had been alerted to the problem. One said it had moved “about an inch” when she leaned on it, but her teacher had assured her it was safe.
Keane and her S1 classmates had been changing for PE in Liberton High School’s gym block when a free-standing wall next to the showers collapsed at around 10am. Paramedics were scrambled, but she was pronounced dead at the scene soon after.
Her parents, well-known Edinburgh chef Clark Bennett, 47, and Abbie Ann Wallis, 34, who works in catering, are being supported by relatives.
Family and friends of the Ferniehill youngster described her as a “massive” fan of boy band One Direction, who loved dancing, and an avid Hibs fan. She was said to be a fun loving and popular pupil who was academically “top of the class”.
Abbie’s aunt Patricia Wallis, 62, who lives in Longfield, Kent, said: “It’s just too awful for words.
“You don’t expect your little girl to go to school and not come home that afternoon.
“Apparently Abbie got a phone call from the school. It had seemed just an ordinary day but then her whole world absolutely collapsed.
“Keane was my brother Christopher’s granddaughter and she’d come down to Kent to visit us in the holidays with Abbie and her brother Ryan, who is 11.
“She was such a happy-go-lucky little girl and very intelligent. In all her exams she would always come first.
“She was interested in all the things girls are - music, clothes and the internet.
“She was really popular at school and had lots of friends.
“There is going to be a massive hole in our family now and there are really no words to say how I feel.”
She said Keane’s death would be even more heartbreaking if the investigation finds that it could have been avoided.
“If that’s true I am really angry, it would be too awful to think Keane’s death could have been prevented.”
Keane’s dad Clark was at her grandparents house in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, when he heard.
Her granddad James Bennet, 81, said: “He went very quiet and I knew something was wrong.
“He said Keane had been in an accident and he left immediately.
“Half an hour later, he phoned to say she had died. He was in bits. He could hardly speak.”
He added: “Keane was a very nice girl who enjoyed dancing. She visited us regularly.”
The police, city council and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) are jointly carrying out the investigation into the accident and the school will remain closed until after the Easter holidays.
.No other pupils were hurt in the tragedy, but one parent said several girls had narrowly escaped injury by leaping away from falling brickwork.
Andy Gray, head of schools at the city council, said he was “not aware” of any concerns relating to the wall prior to yesterday’s incident.
“We are offering welfare support to anyone who needs it and we will be co-operating fully with Police Scotland and the Health & Safety Executive to try to establish what’s happened,” he said.
Parents told yesterday how a ceiling at the school had collapsed a few years ago and the city council was fined in February for breaching health and safety rules after a botched attempt to rescue a 15-year-old pupil who was trapped in a broken down lift in December 2011.
Dozens of floral tributes have been laidlaid at the campus as pupils struggle to come to terms with the death of their schoolmate.
One poignant message, fixed to daffodils read: “My beautiful Cupcake, love Granny X X X.”
Politicians across Scotland joined the flood of tributes to Keane, led by First Minister Alex Salmond, who promised there would be a “rigorous investigation”. “My heart goes out to her family and friends,” he added.
The father of one 14-year-old pupil told how his sons friends had described the moments before the accident.
“The girls had gone into the changing room for PE,” he said. “They had only been in for a few minutes when they heard a rumbling noise from a wall in the middle section of room.
“Some of the girls next to it started to scream and jump back out of the way but one didn’t move fast enough and it fell on her.
“The girls who were in the changing room are completely traumatised and pupils at the school are being offered counselling.”
Keane’s father’s restaurant Clark Bennett at the New Bell, in Causewayside, was closed last night, with a sign apologising for customers’ disappointment.
Tamara Taylor, 12, who was being led out of the school by her father, said the wall in the girls’ showers in the gym building had been loose for months.
“I heard what happened at assembly. The school said a girl was hit by a wall in the changing rooms of the gymnasium,” she said.
“I change there myself, beside that wall. It could have been me. The wall looked OK, but it was loose and it wobbled a bit.
“Some of the kids have been pushing it while they were changing.
“It has been like that for months.”
Fellow pupil Devon Blyth, 13, said: I reported it to my PE teacher a few months ago. He said that it would be fine.
“As I leaned against it, it moved about an inch. It gave everyone a fright - everyone was like ‘oh, God, it’s going to fall’.
“Nothing was done whatsoever. We were told it would be fine and if it moved again we were told to tell him, but it hadn’t moved since.”
Alexander Ritchie, the grandfather of a girl in the same year as 12-year-old Keane, added: “My granddaughter told me about this wall and the fact people said it was unsafe weeks ago. Everyone seems to have known it was dangerous yet nobody did anything about it.
“You expect your kids to be safe at the school – not for this to happen. It makes your blood run cold to think about it.”
Police said an inquiry had been launched and an HSE spokeswoman said: “HSE is aware and is liaising with Police Scotland.”
Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, has called for a “full safety assessment” at the school in the wake of the incident.
Referring to the previous ceiling collapse, he said: “These incidents are unconnected but a full safety assessment should be made of the schools as a matter of urgency.
“The news yesterday morning was a complete shock and will have stunned parents, pupils and teachers up and down the country. To have your daughter happily going to school to never return home is incomprehensible.
“I hope we can get a speedy conclusion to the circumstances of any inquiry.”
Councillor Paul Godzik, convener of the education, children and families department, added: “I was devastated to hear of the tragedy at Liberton High School and my heart goes out to the pupil’s family, friends and fellow students.
Our focus now is on providing emotional support to those affected by the incident and, we will, of course, be working closely with Police Scotland and the Health & Safety Executive to establish the cause.”
SHOCK AND TEARS ON TRAUMATIC DAY
RED-eyed and pale, they streamed out of the gates – parents in tow with heavy drizzle masking their tears.
What began as a dreich Tuesday morning, brightened only by a smattering of April Fools’ pranks, had transformed into an unforgettable horror for Liberton High School’s 650 pupils and 60 staff.
The entire campus was punctured with despair as a 12-year-old girl lost her life in what should be the safest of surroundings.
Then came the parents. A trickle at first, then a flood.
Dignified but raw, they raced to comfort the young – many of whom were experiencing trauma for the first time.
Police marshalled traffic as mums and dads swept over the campus.
Younger pupils wept, many in shock, hoods pulled low to avoid the gaze of the assembled media, who were addressed by police and council head of schools, Andy Gray, below.
Barely two hours had elapsed before the first tranche of floral tributes were laid for Keane Grace Wallis-Bennett.
A hush descended among the media pack as one particularly distraught family made their way past cameras.
In the distance, a police cordon hung loose between the main campus and the old gym.
Three police vehicles guarded the narrow gap as white-suited forensic teams darted in and out.
Amid the confusion, head boy Matthew Palfreyman texted a simple message that succeeded in calming the pounding heart of his worried dad Alan – whose three children all attend the school. “We’re all ok,” it read.
“When you send your kids to school you don’t expect this to happen,” said Alan, 49. “I went to this school myself, it’s been around a long time.
“Matthew was born the day after Dunblane and I instantly thought ‘is there something major that has happened?’. And it turns out something awful has.”