On 10th January 2023 at South Tyneside Magistrates Court, Newcastle City Council were fined following the death of six year old Ella Henderson. Ella was crushed when a decaying willow tree in her school playground collapsed onto to her during high winds in September 2020.
Ella, a year two pupil at Gosforth Park First School, was freed from under the tree by the emergency services but died the following day from her injuries. Several other children received superficial injuries by the falling tree.
An investigation carried out by the HSE found that a number of management and procedural failings had contributed to the accident.
The school did have a service level agreement with Newcastle City Council to undertake bi-annual inspections of the trees. The court heard that an inspection in February 2018 identified the need for ‘further investigation’ of the tree. However the council admitted failing to adequately communicate this to the school, indeed that it had sent the report, on more than one occasion, to a different school in error.
The HSE inspector stated that ‘had an investigation been carried out, it would have revealed the extent of decay,’, going to say ‘it needed that investigation to ensure that the tree was safe to remain or to be felled,’ and that ‘the location of the tree in a busy playground should have prioritised the importance of carrying out that work.’.
The district judge hearing the case stated that Ella’s death ‘could have been avoided’ and added that the council had ‘failed to appreciate the seriousness’ of the risks posed by the tree.
Newcastle City Council pleaded guilty to breaching s 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and were fined £280,000 (reduced from an initial starting point of £750,000) and £8,020 in costs.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.