Keane Wallis-Bennett FAI: Pupils recount moment their classmate died

Keane Wallis-Bennett.
Keane Wallis-Bennett.

Pupils have told how they warned staff several times about a “wobbly” school wall before its collapsed killing one of their classmates.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) is under way in to the death of former Liberton High pupil Keane Wallis-Bennett, who died in April 2014 after a “modesty” wall in the school’s PE block fell on top of her.

Statements from a number of the 12-year-old’s former classmates have been read out at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, where the FAI is due to be heard over a two-week period.

The court heard pupils describe the wall falling over shortly after students had leant against it to change their shoes for an upcoming PE lesson.

In one statement, a pupil – then aged 12 – said the wall had fallen as she started changing into her PE clothes.

She said: “I started to get changed and had my bag down by my feet.

“I then leant against the wall to take my shoes off. It started tipping forward towards the bench area.

“There was no sound of the wall cracking, the only sound was it landing on the ground – it was really noisy.”

Another pupil, who was also in the room at the time, said the wall had apparently seemed to “shuffle” forwards slightly before falling.

She said: “I was in shock, I didn’t know what to do.

“Some of the other girls ran over and tried to lift bits of the walls but it was too heavy.

“I was really upset about it.”

The inquiry also heard from Detective Chief Inspector Keith Hardie, of Police Scotland’s Major Investigations Team, whose team was drafted in to help investigate the tragic incident.

Mr Hardie told the court several children claimed to have seen the wall move, adding two said they had reported concerns to members of staff before Keane’s death.

However he added staff had denied any knowledge of the children’s concerns.

One pupil said she had seen the wall move three or four times in the weeks leading up to Keane’s death, adding it had “always been a bit wobbly”.

She said: “Everyone knew it was wobbly and just accepted it. I didn’t think it was dangerous and wasn’t scared. I’m not aware of anyone else thinking it was dangerous.

“I never told the teacher that the wall could move. I didn’t tell a teacher because the wall didn’t scare me.”

One schoolgirl said she told three teachers about the wall moving only to be told it was “fine”.

Another recalled an earlier occasion in which pupils had “got a bit of a fright” when the wall moved after being leant against by pupils.

She said she reported the incident to a teacher, adding: “There were stories going round the pupils – just gossip – that the wall was wobbly.

“I have been worrying since I found out what happened that I could have done something more.”

However, some claimed they had not been aware of any issues with the wall moving.

One said they were “surprised” when they heard it had fallen, saying they “did not hear anyone talk about the wall” before Keane’s death.

Members of Keane’s family are expected to be in attendance throughout the duration of the inquiry, which is being presided over by Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC.

In her opening statement, Ms Stephen said the inquiry’s aim was to establish “as precisely” as possible the circumstances surrounding Keane’s death.

She also passed on her condolences to the schoolgirl’s family and friends, adding: “The whole community was deeply shocked by Keane’s death – a young woman who attended school on the first of April three years ago – and did not return to her family.

“We know that Keane died at school in the changing room of the PE block when a ‘modesty wall’ collapsed on top of her causing fatal injuries .

“There is a particular poignancy surrounding this tragic event.

“We can all reflect that school is a place where young people should be inspired by learning to understand that there is no limit to their potential and ambition.

“This inquiry begins at a time when Keane’s contemporaries, including her classmates, have recently been taking exams and preparing to make their way in life.”

Ms Stephen said she was pleased at the “constructive” approach which had been taken towards the inquiry, for example the agreement of pupil statements so they were not faced with the “anxiety” of appearing in court.

Those present heard the city council had allocated a sum of £4 million between 2012 and 2013 for internal decoration and minor works across 108 schools.

However, refurbishment of the boys’ and girls’ changing rooms at Liberton High had only been subject to a visual inspection.

The court was also shown 360-degree imaging of the two changing rooms, with the girls’ room being the site of the wall collapse.

The PE block where the incident happened has since been demolished, following the wishes of pupils.

The freestanding brick wall was about 14cm thick and 2.5 meters high and stood between a shower area and the rest of the changing room.

It fell away from the outside shower wall towards the rest of the room. A post-mortem examination later showed Keane had passed away from multiple crush injuries.

The case was investigated by police and the Health and Safety Executive under the direction of the Crown’s health and safety division.

Last year it emerged that no-one would be charged over the schoolgirl’s death following an investigation by the Crown Office into the incident.

However, the Crown Office added a criminal ruling could still be reconsidered if new evidence came to light.

Tributes poured in after news of Keane’s death spread, with a song written by a group of her friends making it into the top 100 on the download chart in December 2014.

The inquiry continues.