Liberton High death among inspector’s ‘most difficult’ cases

Keane Wallis-Bennett
Keane Wallis-Bennett

A HEALTH and safety inspector has told an inquiry that investigating the tragic death of a 12-year-old schoolgirl was “one of the most difficult cases” in his career.

Garry Stimpson, of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), was giving evidence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on the sixth day of a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett.

Keane died on April 1, 2014, after a “modesty” wall weighing 1.9 tonnes collapsed on top of her in the girls’ changing room of Liberton High School’s old PE block.

Principal inspector Mr Stimpson, who is based at the HSE’s Edinburgh office, described the case as “highly unusual and complex” as he gave evidence before Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC.

He said: “It’s fair to say this has been professionally one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever done. I was absolutely clear I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

The court heard the HSE recommended the Crown Office did not pursue criminal proceedings in relation to Keane’s death, but added there was sufficient public interest for an inquiry to be held.

They said while the wall’s collapse constituted a breach of health and safety regulations, the relevant legislation only related to employees and so Keane, as a pupil, did not fit into this category.

Mr Stimpson, 45, added that the HSE had not been able to definitively say what had caused the wall to collapse on the day of Keane’s death.

However he said the regulator was satisfied that neither the council nor school staff were aware of any defects in relation to the wall. 
He said “no evidence” of the wall being wobbly had been formally logged and that the council had an “effective” system in place for reporting such defects.

Mr Stimpson went on to say that visual inspections of the wall in 2012 had not raised any cause for concern and that the council could not reasonably have foreseen that it had become defective.

The inquiry also heard that the design of the wall was “flawed” from the outset and was too slender for its height.

Mr Stimpson added laboratory tests later found the wall had been cracked for a “long period of time” – possibly years – and this had allowed water to enter the structure.

Inspectors also discovered skirting tiles had been removed from its base, though the reason for this remains unclear.

The court heard that, following the incident, the HSE had been “very keen” to raise the alert and ensure other freestanding walls across Great Britain were checked.

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk