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Police inquiry and safety probe after pupil killed in school tragedy

URGENT safety reviews of school buildings are to begin immediately amid claims that faults with a changing-room wall that collapsed and killed a 12-year-old pupil had been reported months ago.

Keane Wallis-Bennett was a first-year pupil at Liberton High School in the south of Edinburgh.
Keane Wallis-Bennett was a first-year pupil at Liberton High School in the south of Edinburgh.

An investigation by police and the Health and Safety Executive has been launched after Keane Wallis-Bennett, a first year student at Liberton High School, Edinburgh, died yesterday morning when a free-standing wall fell on her.

The City Of Edinburgh Council, which described the structure as a "modesty wall" designed to offer privacy to students taking showers in the PE changing room, said specialist staff would begin a survey of all similar walls in its schools while a full investigation of the Liberton building would take place before the school reopens.

Devon Blyth, a 13-year-old pupil at the school, said she had told staff about the dangerous state of what is believed to be the same wall in January, but that nothing was done.

"I think they should have done something about it," she said. "I reported it, about two months ago, that the wall had moved when I leaned on it. The member of staff said it would be fine."

Another student, Tamara Taylor, 12, said the wall had been unsteady for months and the issue was widely known about. She added: "Some of the kids have been pushing it while they were changing."

Edinburgh City Council, which is responsible for the building, said it had not yet established whether the school had been aware of the fault, although it is expected that the allegation will be investigated as a priority. A source said: "Questions are being asked as we speak."

It has also emerged that Liberton High had been pushed down a priority list for repairs due to budget pressures within the council.

Parents were informed of yesterday's incident, which happened shortly before 10am, by text message and were asked to collect their children. The school is to remain closed for the rest of the week and will not reopen until after the Easter holidays on April 22.

The death comes just weeks after the local authority was fined £8000 for an incident that took place at the same school in 2011. Morgan Seaton, then 15, was seriously injured when she fell more than 16ft down a broken lift shaft. The council admitted a breach of health and safety regulations.

Superintendent Matt Richards, of Police Scotland, said: "Inquiries now continue with partners from the Health and Safety Executive and also alongside 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. What I will say is our thoughts and prayers are with the family, and in particular with the schoolchildren."

The 55-year-old school was last surveyed in 2012-13 and at that time no concerns with the wall in the changing room were identified. The building was given a B grade, meaning it was assessed as "performing adequately but showing minor deterioration".

First Minister Alex Salmond, his deputy Nicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary Mike Russell were among those to express their shock and offer their condolences to Keane's family, who were yesterday being supported by police liaison officers. Counselling was being offered to pupils and staff at the school.

Lothian MSP and shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale described the incident as "utterly tragic". She added: "The time for a full and thorough investigation into the condition of Liberton High and any concerns pupils had will come. Right now the focus must be on supporting the school community and all those affected by yesterday's events.

"My thoughts go out to Keane's family. They sent their daughter off to school without ever contemplating she would not come home."

A council spokesman described the pupil's death as a "tragic incident" and offered condolences to the student's family and friends.

He added: "Senior education officers continue to support the pupils and staff. Police investigations are continuing. However, we understand the wall that collapsed was a free standing modesty wall in a changing room.

"A full survey of all our schools, including Liberton High, 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 in schools where we know they exist.

"As a further precaution, a full survey will be carried out on Liberton High before the main school building reopens to pupils. Support for all pupils, plus tutorial support for S4 to S6 pupils, will be available in the school's new games hall for the rest of this week."

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Education

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