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Family pay tribute to Liberton High School pupil

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  • by ILONA AMOS
 

The heartbroken family of a 12-year-old girl who died after a school wall fell on top of her spoke last night of their “princess who dreamed of being prime minister”.

Keane Wallis-Bennett, a first-year pupil at Liberton High School in Edinburgh, was killed on Tuesday when an internal wall in the PE block collapsed as she was getting changed for gym class.

Yesterday her parents, Clark Bennett and Abbie Wallis, and her 11-year-old brother, Ryan, paid tribute to Keane, describing her love of “girly” shopping trips and spending time with friends.

In a short statement, her family said: “Keane will be sadly missed by all her family and friends. She was our princess who dreamed of being prime minister. But failing that, a beautician. She loved her girlfriends and her days out shopping with lunches and all things girly. She recently attended her first under-18s disco and loved every second of it and was excited to be going to see One Direction in concert.”

Mr Bennett, a chef at the New Bell restaurant in Edinburgh, and Ms Wallis added that they would be making no further comment and wanted to be left alone to grieve while they come to terms with their loss.

Stephen Kelly, the headteacher at Liberton High School, also paid tribute. He said: “Keane was an excellent pupil who had a bright and bubbly personality and got on well with others in class.

“She was a popular team player, who took an active role in projects such as the Junior Awards Scheme Scotland. She showed a lot of sporting ability and was really eager to contribute to the school, for example by clearing litter and planting bulbs in the school grounds.

“She had a real presence in class and her friends and my staff are deeply shocked and upset at what has happened.”

At Liberton High, which remained closed yesterday, a carpet of flowers, cuddly toys, cards and letters was laid at the entrance. “You are missed by so many people. You don’t deserve to die this young,” one message read.

“All we have is memories and your picture in a frame. Your memory is a keepsake which will never part,” said another.

At the nearby Liberton Northfield Church, a book of condolence was opened and candles were lit in memory of Keane by friends and other visitors.

“We recognise the impact this is having on the community and we will be there for anyone who needs us,” said the Rev Cammy MacKenzie.

The tributes came as an urgent review into the structural safety of schools started in Edinburgh yesterday. The city council began an examination of all similar “modesty walls” in school buildings and ordered a thorough survey of Liberton.

One pupil said on Tuesday that the wall that collapsed in the girls’ changing room had been “wobbly” for some time and that it moved when anyone leaned on it.

Devon Blyth, 13, said she had alerted a teacher to the problem at least two months ago.

Yesterday the father of a 14-year-old pupil at the school in the south-east of Edinburgh said he had been told about what happened inside the building. The man said: “The girls had gone into the changing room for PE. They had only been in for a few minutes when they heard a rumbling noise from a wall in the middle section of the 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.”

A former member of staff, who also did not wish to be named, said some teachers there had voiced fears over the condition of the structure.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary whose constituency includes Liberton, said the school had faced “challenges” in recent times. But he said that he did not believe there were health and safety problems there.

He spoke of his “shock and disbelief” at Keane’s death, saying: “It’s hard to imagine the situation of a child going off to school never to return, and our hearts and thoughts go out to the family and the wider community and pupils.”

Keane died just weeks after the City of Edinburgh Council was fined £8,000 for a health and safety breach involving a girl who was seriously injured falling 16ft down a lift shaft at Liberton High School in 2011.

Mr MacAskill said: “The school, as with many schools of that era, the late 1950s early 1960s, has its challenges.

“There was storm damage a few years back that caused considerable difficulties and the incident for which the council was fined.

“But notwithstanding the difficulties with fragmenting and fraying to the fabric, it’s a good school in which the head and past head have done a remarkable job in making it a very good school for the local community.”

He stressed the council was doing a “good job” on school maintenance, despite financial constraints.

A council spokesman said a survey of all its schools was carried out between 2012 and 2013 and no concerns about the wall at Liberton had been identified.

Last December, Liberton was added to a list of schools in the city in need of “priority” repairs estimated to cost more than

£1 million.

Work to rewire and add new lighting to the main building and an upgrading of the heating and water systems in the old gym was due to start last week.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who visited the school in December, yesterday pledged a “rigorous investigation” into the incident.

David Cameron paid tribute to the dead schoolgirl during Prime Minister’s Questions, describing her death as “absolutely shocking”.

He said: “Clearly lessons have to be learned to make sure tragic accidents like this don’t happen again.”

The Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, said: “I have two children of secondary school age and I can only imagine how desperate the feelings of the family of that girl must be.

“Everybody expects when they send their children to school in the morning that they will be safe for as long as they are there, and that you will get them back home.”

A spokesman for the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said: “It would be inappropriate to speculate on the specific ­circumstances of this tragic case, particularly while the investigation is ongoing.

“However, it is clear that ensuring schools are a safe environment for both pupils and teachers must always be a top priority for all local authorities.”

The council’s convener of education, children and families, Paul Godzik, said he was “shocked and saddened” by recent events but praised school workers and emergency teams for their professionalism during the incident.

He said: “Our immediate priority as a council is to support Keane’s family and the whole school community.

“I have visited the school today to meet staff and to ensure the immediate and ongoing support they and their pupils require is in place.”

He stressed the importance of discovering exactly what happened and said the council is working closely with police and the Health and Safety Executive as investigations continued.

 
 
 

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