A 12-YEAR-OLD girl died at school today after a wall inside a gym building collapsed on top of her.
The pupil, who has been named locally as Keane Wallis-Bennet, was in the first year at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. She was in the girls’ changing room getting ready for a PE class when the internal wall fell, trapping her.
The emergency services arrived shortly before 10am, but Keane was pronounced dead at the scene. Her family was informed by police.
Pupils were sent home early as police and Health and Safety officials began an investigation into how the accident happened.
The incident comes just weeks after the City of Edinburgh Council was fined £8,000 for a health and safety breach after a girl was seriously injured when she fell 16ft down a lift shaft at the same school.
Last night, distraught school-friends posted tributes to Keane on Twitter. “Sleep tight beautiful,” wrote one friend. “No child should go to school and not return home,” wrote another.
Parents learned about the tragedy today via a text message from the school’s headteacher. Soon after, a steady stream of parents began arriving at the school gates to collect their children. Many of the pupils were visibly upset. They had been informed about Keane’s death in a special assembly.
One pupil told reporters that pupils had noticed the changing room wall had been “wobbly” for some time. Devon Blyth, 13, said she had warned a teacher about it more than two months ago. “There was a wall that has been wobbly for months,” she said. “And then this happened.”
This afternoon, the council announced that the school would remain closed for the rest of the week. It is not due to reopen until after the Easter break, which begins on Friday.
Andy Gray, head of schools and community services at the council, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our pupil at this tragic time. This is obviously a very distressing time for all pupils, staff and the community here at Liberton High School.
“We are offering welfare support to anyone who needs it and we will be co-operating fully with Police Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive to establish what’s happened.”
Asked if the council knew of concerns about the wall prior to today’s incident, Mr Gray said: “We are not aware of that at this stage.”
Last night, a council spokesman said preliminary inquiries suggested that it was a “free-standing modesty wall”. He added that an urgent review of all similar walls at the city’s schools would be carried out.
“A full survey of all our schools, including Liberton High School, was carried out in 2012-13 and no concerns with this wall were identified. However, as a precaution, specialist council building services staff will be surveying all similar walls. The survey work will begin early tomorrow,” he said.
“As a further precaution, a full survey will be carried out on Liberton High School in the coming days before the main school building reopens to pupils.”
Superintendent Matt Richards, of Police Scotland, said: “Inquiries now continue with partners from the Health and Safety Executive and the council to make sure we get to the bottom of what has happened. It would be wrong to speculate about that at the moment.”
Dorothy Doherty, 34, was one of the parents who rushed to the school after a call from her 14-year-old daughter Morgan. “I only received a message from the school a few minutes ago,” she said. “I heard from my daughter before I got that, but I’m glad that I did. She didn’t know what was going on, but all she could see was the police and ambulance. My daughter said she knew the girl.
“I wasn’t told anything by the school, just this text. It was my daughter who told me a wall had fallen and a girl had been killed.”
Alan Palfreyman, 49, who has three children at Liberton and was a pupil there himself, went straight to the school after his wife received a text from their 12-year-old daughter. He said it was “worrying” how it might affect his daughter, who is the same age as Keane.
The comprehensive school, in Gilmerton Road in the south of the city, was built in 1959 and has around 650 pupils and 60 staff. The PE department, where the incident happened, was last refurbished in 1986.
The report from an inspection of the school carried out for the council’s education, children and families committee last year listed the old gym as requiring electrical improvements and the school as a whole requiring “significant levels of investment” to bring it up to acceptable standards. This was defined as more than £1 million of work.
Last night, Paul Godzik, convener of education, children and families, added: “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 and Safety Executive to establish the cause.”
Ministers and youth workers from a number of local churches offered their support to the school community today. The Rev Dave Rankin, associate minister at nearby Liberton Kirk and a chaplain at the school, said: “Members of the chaplaincy team at Liberton High School went to the school as soon as we became aware of this terrible accident.”
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Lorna Hood, wrote on Twitter: “Sadness as we hear of the death of pupil at
Liberton High School. Our prayers & heartfelt compassion go out to her family & school community.”
First Minister Alex Salmond also took to the social networking site to say he was “shocked and deeply saddened at news from Liberton High. Visited school in December – thoughts today with family, pupils and staff.”
Keane’s death is the second tragedy to affect the school in recent months. In December, pupil Jamie Skinner, 13, died after collapsing on a football pitch during a match.
Liberton High School, in Gilmerton Road in the south-east of Edinburgh, has a roll of around 650 pupils and 60 staff.
The comprehensive school was opened in 1959 by the Duchess of Kent and was the first of a series of new schools built to accommodate children from Edinburgh’s outlying housing estates. Several extensions were added during the 1960s and 1970s to cope with an increasing number of pupils.
A programme of refurbishment began in 1986, beginning with the upgrading of the PE department. Liberton received a £49,900 boost from the Scottish Government in April last year as part of Legacy 2014, a series of community projects unveiled across Scotland.
Former pupils include Bay City Rollers guitarist Eric Faulkner and footballer Eamonn Bannon.