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shock death Inquest hears how boy (12) suffered 'severe brain injury' after school bannister fall

It is hard to understand how this can happen in a modern school building,” said Mr Cunningham.

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Joe Cunningham, father of 12 year old Blaise Cunningham pictured this afternoon leaving Dublin Coroner's Court after  the inquest into the death of his son. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Joe Cunningham, father of 12 year old Blaise Cunningham pictured this afternoon leaving Dublin Coroner's Court after the inquest into the death of his son. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Joe Cunningham, father of 12 year old Blaise Cunningham pictured this afternoon leaving Dublin Coroner's Court after the inquest into the death of his son. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The father of a young boy who died after falling off a banister in a Dublin school two years ago has expressed disbelief that such an accident could occur in modern school buildings.

An inquest into the death of Blaise Cunningham (12) at Dublin District Coroner’s Court heard the 6th class student incurred fatal injuries as a result of a sliding incident on a stairway at St Brigid’s National School in Castleknock on February 5, 2020.

The young Castleknock schoolboy died three weeks later at the LauraLynn children’s hospice in Leopardstown, Co Dublin on February 26, 2020 after he suffered what the inquest heard was “severe and irreversible brain injury” during a fall between the first and second floor of a school building.

The boy’s father Joe Cunningham told the inquest that the incident had taken place in a building at St Brigid’s that was less than 10 years old.

“It is hard to understand how this can happen in a modern school building,” said Mr Cunningham.

The inquest heard that measures were taken to improve the safety of stairways at the school following Brian’s death.

A special needs teacher, Geraldine Healy, told the inquest that she had witnessed Blaise and another boy sliding down the banister of the stairs in the school during a break.

Ms Healy said she had told the two students that such action was not allowed and she informed the teacher on yard duty, Anne Collins, about what had happened.

Later when classes were ending at around 2.30pm, Ms Healy said she was alerted by other students about a boy who had fainted.

She described finding Blaise groaning on the ground at the foot of the stairs on the first floor of the building.

In evidence, Ms Collins told the inquest that she had called Blaise and his classmate over to her in the yard after being told about the earlier incident on the banister.

She explained how she had “sin-binned” the two boys for engaging in “serious and dangerous” behaviour and said they understood why they were in trouble.

Blaise’s teacher, Patrick Lowry, said he had also spoken to the two students after being informed about what happened on the stairway.

Mr Lowry said he had warned them such action was “unacceptable and dangerous” and they would face detention if it happened again.

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The teacher said he addressed his entire class about the responsibility they had over their behaviour as they were role models for younger pupils in the school.

Mr Lowry then described how he rushed out to the stairs after hearing calls for help at the end of classes.

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Teacher, Ann Collins, left and SNA teacher, Geraldine Healy at St. Brigid's NS, Castleknock pictured leaving Dublin Coroner's Court. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Teacher, Ann Collins, left and SNA teacher, Geraldine Healy at St. Brigid's NS, Castleknock pictured leaving Dublin Coroner's Court. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Teacher, Ann Collins, left and SNA teacher, Geraldine Healy at St. Brigid's NS, Castleknock pictured leaving Dublin Coroner's Court. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

He found Blaise lying on the ground with a severe gash to his chin, while his eyes were open but unfocused.

The teacher said he spoke to the boy but got “no coherent response.”

Mr Lowry said he tried to get the boy into a recovery position but had found it difficult to remove a schoolbag which was on his back.

He recalled asking Blaise to squeeze his hand which he did firmly but later noted that the boy’s breathing was slowing down before he appeared to suffer a seizure.

Blaise was subsequently attended by paramedics before being transferred by ambulance to Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

The inquest heard Blaise’s mother, Sophie, had arrived at the school to collect her son, while his father arrived a short time later after being alerted to the incident.

St Brigid’s principal, Denis Courtney, said safety was paramount at the 950-student school.

“Safety is crucial in school. We take it seriously. It is paramount. You need systems and structures for larger schools,” said Mr Courtney.

The principal said safety was “a constant conversation” that was discussed at staff meetings and school assembly as part of a “whole school approach” to the issue.

Mr Courtney said a risk audit carried out on the school every two years had never identified any risk in relation to the stairs.

He said the earlier incident involving Blaise and another pupil on the banister would have routinely been followed up by a deputy principal as part of the school’s disciplinary procedures.

The inquest heard the two boys had an excellent disciplinary record.

The principal said there had only ever been one incident before on a stairway after a student tripped over a loose shoelace.

Mr Courtney said the school had engaged an engineer following Blaise’s death which had led to the introduction of higher railings on stairways together with “dome-shaped studs” being affixed to banisters to prevent sliding down them.

Handrails were also installed on both sides of stairways, while banisters in two older school buildings were replaced, he added.

A student who was an eyewitness to the fatal incident told gardaí that Blaise had hopped up onto the banister after classes were over while he had a schoolbag on his back.

Garda Seán Breheny, who led the investigation into Blaise’s death, said the boy had fallen off the banister onto the third step of the floor below. There was no suspicion of foul play or any third party involvement.

The inquest heard doctors at Temple Street Children’s Hospital said Blaise had suffered acute blood clots and swelling to his brain.

An MRI scan carried out a week later revealed he had suffered permanent brain damage and a decision was taken to provide him with palliative care.

He died within 24 hours of being transferred to the LauraLynn hospice.

The coroner, Dr Clare Keane, returned a verdict of death by misadventure after noting how Blaise had died from severe brain damage as a result of a fall.

Offering condolences to the boy’s family and staff at St Brigid’s, Dr Keane added: “It was a shocking accident that occurred in a heartbeat.”

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