12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennet, in her first year at Liberton High School, was killed on 1st April 2014 when a freestanding masonry ‘privacy’ wall fell onto her in the shower area of the changing rooms.
The fatal accident inquiry has concluded that the wall was unstable and no one was to blame, despite it having been cracked for perhaps years.
Sherif principal Mhairi Stephen found: “The unstable nature of the wall was the real cause of the accident. That instability was caused by the alignment of two main factors: firstly, the design and construction of the wall and secondly, due to the wall being cracked along its horizontal plane. The wall separated close to its base and had been cracked at the separation plane for a long period of time prior to 1 April 2014. This internal defect or cracking would not be obvious on visual inspection.”
She added: “The potential risks from free standing masonry walls in the light of the evidence to this Inquiry are clear.”
She concluded: “The actions of pupils over many years many have unwittingly contributed to this inherently unstable painted monolith cracking. No pupil should shoulder any responsibility or burden whatsoever in the wake of what happened. Perhaps the most positive and useful outcome of this Inquiry is to inform and warn of the risks from free standing masonry walls. This will reinforce the measures taken in 2014 by HSE in conjunction with the Scottish Government and the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) to promote rigorous inspection of such walls with a view to consideration being given to remedial strengthening measures and where appropriate removal of such walls. In both the public and private domain steps ought to be taken to assess the risk of the continued use of such walls in light of this tragedy.”
City of Edinburgh Council was clearly relieved to be absolved of blame. Alistair Gaw, executive director of communities and families, said: “Once again on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council I want to express our deepest sympathies to Keane’s family for their tragic loss. Having now received the determination from Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen we note her conclusion that there were no reasonable precautions that could have been taken to avoid the accident which resulted in Keane’s death.
“She further finds that the maintenance and inspection regime at Liberton High School complied with statutory requirements and that there was a comprehensive understanding of the fault reporting system among staff.
“The determination also states that the council had taken all reasonably practicable measures to ensure that the wall was inspected and maintained.
“We note the recommendation regarding the potential risks from free standing walls. Immediately after the incident in 2014 the council removed similar free standing walls in its schools and subsequently safety advice was issued by the Scottish government advising all local authorities of the risks regarding these walls.”
He concluded: “Our overriding priority is always the safety of pupils and staff and we want to ensure nothing like this tragic event ever happens again.”