There were “no reasonable precautions” that could have prevented the death of a 12-year-old girl before a freestanding Edinburgh school wall collapsed on her in 2014, a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) has found.
The gym wall that killed Keane Wallis-Bennett at Liberton High School was “inherently unstable”, the FAI at Edinburgh Sheriff Court also found.
The “modesty wall” in the PE block collapsed on Keane on 1 April 2014. Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen concluded the immediate cause of the collapse was “the application of a lateral force to the wall sufficient to push it beyond its tipping point”.
In her findings, the sheriff principal said: “It is probable that the activities of other pupils who were braced between the freestanding ‘privacy wall’ and the shower wall was sufficient to cause the wall to move beyond the tipping point.
“The lateral force generated by the innocent, high-spirited behaviour of those pupils could push it past its tipping point due to the wall being inherently unstable and liable to sudden collapse. The unstable nature of the wall was the real cause of the accident.”
She concluded: “There are no reasonable precautions I can propose whereby Keane's death or the accident might have been avoided.”
The sheriff principal said: “The actions of pupils over many years may 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.”
She added: “The potential risks from freestanding masonry walls in the light of the evidence to this inquiry is clear.”
Measures were taken in 2014 by the Health and Safety Executive, with the Scottish government, to raise awareness of these risks.
The sheriff principal said that consideration should now be given to strengthening or removing any similar walls.
In a separate incident in January 2016, a gable wall at Oxgangs Primary in Edinburgh collapsed after Storm Gertrude. An independent report found that deaths had only been avoided thanks to luck and timing.
In June the report’s author, architect Professor John Cole, told the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee that it was “impossible” to tell how many faults lay undiscovered in Scotland’s school buildings.
Without the rigorous checks recommended in his report, there was “always a risk” of defects which could result in a repeat of the Oxgangs fall, as well as the four others like it in Scottish schools in recent years.