Keane Wallis-Bennett FAI: School lacked funds to improve wall

Liberton High School head teacher Stephen Kelly told an FAI inquriy that improvements to wall which killed pupil pulled due to lack of funds. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Liberton High School head teacher Stephen Kelly told an FAI inquriy that improvements to wall which killed pupil pulled due to lack of funds. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The headteacher of Liberton High School said plans to demolish a changing room wall before it collapsed and killed a pupil were shelved due to a lack of funds, an inquiry has heard.

It comes as school head Stephen Kelly today (Wednesday) gave evidence at a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of schoolgirl Keane Wallis-Bennett, who died when a PE block wall fell on her in April 2014.

Mr Kelly told Edinburgh Sheriff Court that the changing rooms in which the 12-year-old died had been earmarked for refurbishment prior to her tragic death.

The inquiry heard a number of potential redecoration jobs had been drawn up by the school after it was allocated a share of council cash designed to be used for minor works across 108 schools.

Mr Kelly said he felt the freestanding “modesty” walls in Liberton High’s old PE block changing rooms “weren’t modern” and had little purpose given students rarely used the showers behind them.

However Mr Kelly explained that upgrading the rooms – which would include demolishing the modesty walls – was “near the bottom” of the list when it came to redecoration priorities.

He said any changes would have been for purely decorative purposes, adding he had not been made aware of any safety concerns over the girls’ changing room wall prior to Keane’s death.

The inquiry, which got under way on Monday, also heard evidence from several members of staff from the high school’s PE department.

Former head of PE Ian Hutchison, who left Liberton in the December before Keane’s death, denied having any knowledge of concern over the wall’s safety.

He added he would have “immediately” investigated had any such suggestion ever been made.

Asked by Sheriff 
Principal Mhairi Stephen how he felt when he heard what had happened, Mr Hutchison said: “I was upset. It’s a school that I still hold very close.

“It’s where I spent the majority of my career so I had immediate concerns for my former colleagues and pupils and families involved.”

The inquiry, which is expected to take two weeks, also heard from 24-year-old Conall Low, who had been on a ten-week placement as a student PE teacher in the weeks leading up to Keane’s death.

Mr Low had finished his placement shortly before the incident, but happened to arrive at the school on the day of Keane’s death to interview two members of staff for his dissertation.

He left shortly afterwards, saying it was clear his former colleagues were “visibly shaken” by what had happened. Mr Low also denied being aware of any issue with the wall, saying at no point did any pupil discuss with him such a concern.

The inquiry continues.