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Council fined £300k after dog walker hit by tree on public footpath

A county council has been fined £300,000 for failing to inspect and maintain trees on a public footpath, following the death of a member of the public.

North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard how, on 3 October 2019, Neville Scattergood was walking his dog on the Isabel Trail in Stafford when he was struck and killed by part of a falling oak tree.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the tree, a multi-stemmed mature hybrid oak, approximately 12-14 metre high and with a crown radius of between seven and ten metres, had defects from which it was foreseeable that it was likely to fall and cause injury. The tree was located within the boundaries of the Isabel Trail.

Staffordshire County Council had a programme of proactive inspection and maintenance across the county, but the Isabel Trail had been omitted for many years.

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The local authority pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,164.90 and a victim surcharge £181.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Lyn Mizen said: “This tragic incident could have been averted if the required periodic tree safety inspections, as per the Staffordshire County Council’s own Code of Practice, had been carried out.

“Local authorities need to ensure they have suitable inspection systems in place, including monitoring and audit provisions, to guard against situations such as this, and to ensure they have enough suitably trained and competent tree inspectors to enable compliance with their tree management policies and codes of practice.”

Alan White, Leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “On behalf of Staffordshire County Council I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Scattergood and apologise unreservedly for the authority’s shortcomings in this case.

“Although it can be no consolation to those affected, the council has fully acknowledged its responsibility and has met its obligations to Mr Scattergood’s family at the earliest opportunity.”

He added: “I once presented Mr Scattergood an award for his work helping others and the death in this way of someone you have met is a stark reminder of the responsibilities we carry as a council.

“Following this terrible incident, we have reviewed our system of checks and maintenance planning and done all we can to improve it.”

At an inquest held in June this year into the death of Mr Scattergood, South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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