Keane Wallis-Bennett FAI: ex-classmates to give new evidence

Keane Wallis-Bennett
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Keane Wallis-Bennett .

FORMER classmates of an Edinburgh schoolgirl who died in a school wall tragedy are to give evidence, in a bid to shed fresh light on the final moments leading up to her death.

Liberton High School pupil Keane Wallis-Bennett passed away aged 12 when a freestanding “modesty” wall in the school’s old PE block collapsed on her in April 2014.

The inquiry previously heard evidence from pupils present in the changing room at the time through their police statements being read out in an effort to spare them the anxiety of appearing in court.

Advocate Gavin Anderson, who is representing Keane’s parents, explained his clients had not intended to lead further evidence from the pupils.

However he yesterday told Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC that they were changing their position in light of evidence which had emerged.

Mr Anderson said it was necessary to call the pupils – who will give evidence from a remote location by video link – after the court heard from Mark Hatfield, a specialist inspector of the Health and Safety Executive.

Appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday, Mr Hatfield said he could not “definitively” say why the wall fell at the moment it did on the morning of Keane’s death.

The court previously heard from pupils that two children had leant against the wall to change their shoes shortly before it fell.

However Mr Hatfield said he did not believe this activity would have exerted enough force to topple the wall.

The inspector said he believed the wall had been cracked through its full thickness for a long period of time prior to its collapse, adding that the cracks were most likely to have formed through the application of lateral pressure.

He remarked: “Changing
rooms can be boisterous places and horseplay should be anticipated.”

However it has not been suggested any activities such as “wall-walking” – which involves shuffling up the space between two walls – occurred in the moments immediately before the modesty wall fell.

Mr Hatfield added that, hypothetically, it would have required more than seven girls leaning on the wall to make it fall, or three to four if pushing hard against it with their feet.

Mr Anderson said calling pupils to give evidence could therefore assist the inspector to reach “further conclusions about what caused the wall to collapse” on the day Keane was fatally injured.

The inquiry, which got under way last week, also heard Mr Hatfield rule out a sudden gust of wind as a plausible explanation for the wall’s collapse.

He went on to say that while the wall’s design was “inadequate” – being too slender for its height – there was no evidence of poor construction, and that the previous removal of skirting tiles along one side of the wall’s base at some point in its history would not have affected stability.

The inquiry continues.

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk