Keane Wallis-Bennett FAI: Inquiry into tragedy concludes

AN inquiry into the death of an Edinburgh schoolgirl who was fatally injured by a falling wall has drawn to a close.

Friday, 16th June 2017, 10:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th June 2017, 3:51 pm
Abbie Wallis (centre), the mother of Keane Wallis-Bennett, arrives with her partner James Glendinning at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Picture: SWNS

Keane Wallis-Bennett, 12, died in April 2014 after a freestanding “modesty” wall collapsed in the girls’ changing room of Liberton High School’s PE block.

Yesterday marked the end of a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the circumstances of her death, which has been heard in the presence of Keane’s family at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

The two-week inquiry before Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC has heard evidence from a number of witnesses, including teachers and pupils, as well as construction and health and safety experts.

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In statements to the police, some of Keane’s former classmates said they had told teachers that the wall was “wobbly” before it collapsed.

However teachers called to give evidence denied these conversations had taken place, saying that they would have reported concerns immediately had they been alerted.

Procurator Fiscal depute Gary Aitken spoke of how the inquiry had heard experts believed the wall had been fully cracked for some time prior to its collapse.

It is believed the wall was likely caused to fall when the force of two pupils leaning aginst it pushed the wall over its tipping point.

Mr Aitken paid tribute to Keane’s parents for their courage, saying that it must have been very difficult for them to listen to the evidence, but he hoped it had been of some assistance.

He said: “A Fatal Accident Inquiry is a fact-finding exercise not a fault-finding exercise or to apportion blame.

“It is to learn and prevent a similar tragedy happening again”.

The inquiry, he added, had to rely on the evidence that was available rather then speculation.

Mr Aitken said the most difficult issue during the hearing had been the reaction between pupils and teachers.

Some pupils had told the police that they had warned teachers that the wall had moved.

The teachers, he said, had been quite clear there had been no such reports.

“There is no particular reason why children would be mistaken about telling teachers” he said, but added: “Similarly there is no reason why teachers would not report this”.

Mr Aitken said it was possible there were other schools and public buildings with modesty walls in Scotland and the UK and they would be looked at and perhaps removed or replaced.

He added: “That would perhaps be of some small measure of good from this terrible tragedy.”

Advocate, Gavin Anderson, acting for the parents, called into question the differing statements of the pupils and teachers.

The position of the teachers, that they had never been told about the “wobbly” wall was irreconcilable with the position of the girls. Why would girls launch an orchestrated campaign against teachers, he asked.

Sheriff Principal Stephen told Keane’s mother, Abbie Wallis, that she would give her determination as soon of she possibly could. She praised the very dignified way in which Ms Wallis and Keane’s father, Clark Bennett, had behaved in their quest for answers and their love for their daughter.