City Council Guilty of Safety Breaches After Tree Falls onto Schoolgirl

| General

In mid-January 2023 South Tyneside Magistrates Court handed down a criminal conviction to Newcastle City Council after it had failed in its duty to keep a willow tree in a safe condition. The matter was taken so seriously by the justices sitting in the Magistrates Court because matters took a dark turn when a school girl was playing with her friends, the tree fell, hit the youngster and meant she sustained serious injuries which she sadly never recovered from. To punish and deter other organizations from conducting themselves in this unprofessional, negligent, or criminal manner, the court imposed a financial sanction in an amount just shy of three hundred thousand pounds.  

What Happened In The Case?

The accident seems to have occurred in the playground of the premises owned by her school located in the town of Newcastle upon Tyne. The day began like any other. The schoolgirl was presumably attending her school lessons, spending time with her school friends, and was in the middle of a break. However, events did not seem to have gone according to plan in this particular case when a tree of the willow variety chose that late September day to fall. Unfortunately, the time the tree gave way seems to have coincided with the time the school girl was in the vicinity of the tree. The part of the tree which moved during the fall appears to have a schoolgirl. When the tree did so it trapped her under the structure of the tree and worryingly inflicted extremely serious injuries to her body. The medical team heroically rescued the schoolgirl from the clutches of the tree and transported her to a hospital establishment nearby. However, all the efforts of the medical team seem to have been in vain as the school girl succumbed to her serious injuries and passed away.       

What Did The Health and Safety Executive Say?

The industry regulator, the Health and Safety Executive was obliged to examine the facts and evidence to assess liability. It found that the Newcastle City Council had failed in its duty to spot issues with the willow tree located on the premises it had responsibility for its upkeep, repair, and maintenance. It had neglected to spot how serious the rotting of the tree was and failed to conduct a risk assessment regarding the tree. In South Tyneside Magistrates Court the Council seemingly and to its credit appear to have been of the view that it had no other alternative but to hold its hands up to its misdemeanors under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which legally obliges businesses to safeguard the health and safety of persons who are not employed by it and there is a possibility that they could physically be affected by its behavior or omissions. Due to the criminal conviction and the admission to violations of the rules and regulations in this area, the court hearing the case imposed a financial sanction in the amount of just shy of three hundred thousand pounds.   

Lessons Learned?

Councils across the country and those with responsibilities for trees on their premises ideally need to be reviewing this case by complying with section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by reducing the likelihood of incidents of this kind by proactively maintaining trees in the area, implementing risk assessments, complying with their legal obligations to carry out surveys on the particular tree forthwith, spotting the indicators of signs of danger and keeping persons away from such features if unsafe.  


#BlakeMorgan #LClyde&CoLLP #CapsticksLLP #Hempsons #KingsleyNapleyLLP #RadcliffesLeBrasseur #BatesWells #CMS #DACBeachcroftLLP #FieldFisher #HerbertSmithFreehills #Russell-CookeLLP #BlackfordsLLP #CharlesRussellSpeechlysLLP #KeoughLLP #MurdochsSolicitors #StepehensonsSolicItorsLLP


[SOURCE 1] HSE – Council fined £280,000 after the death of six-year-old girl hit by falling tree – 10th January 2023 - Council fined £280,000 after the death of six-year-old girl hit by falling tree | HSE Media Centre

[SOURCE 2] Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 

[SOURCE 3] Health and Safety Executive – Management of the risk from falling trees or branches – SIM/01/2007/05 - Management of the risk from falling trees or branches - FOI - HSE



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