Council fined £300k after market trader killed by falling tree

ITV News Central's George Hancorn reports.

A council has been fined £300,000 after a man was killed by a falling tree on a public footpath near a cemetery in Stafford.

Neville Scattergood suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after being hit by the falling bough of an oak tree while he was walking his dogs on the Isabel Trail in Stafford on October 3, 2019.Staffordshire County Council, which owns the trail, has now been hit with a £300,000 fine after previously admitting breaking health and safety laws.North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard that while the authority had systems in place for ensuring the safety of trees on public highways, the oak in question had been left off the inspection list due to an "administrative mistake."This meant that no proactive inspection had taken place for at least a decade prior to the fatal accident.

The court also heard previous damage to the tree, which had made it more likely to fall, had gone undetected. Chris Hopkins, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, argued that if this problem had been detected, simply pruning the tree could have removed the risk of it falling.

Emergency services investigating the scene of the Isabel Trail in Stafford in October 2019

The council had received around two complaints a year relating to trees on the Isabel Trail, which had been responded to on an individual basis.A victim impact statement from Neville's father-in-law David Jenkinson that his loss would be felt by the family for the remainder of their lives.David Lewis, representing the county council, stressed that the authority had not intentionally ignored certain trees in order to save money or any other reason.He said: "This council has systems in place for maintaining trees. More than 99 per cent of its trees were covered by these systems. Due to an administrative error less than one per cent of the trees were not inspected."Judge Grego said: "There were approximately 20 reports from the public between 2009 and 2019 relating to trees on the Isabel Trail. Some were complaints about maintenance, and some were about trees that had fallen."

Neville Scattergood was pronounced dead at the scene. Credit: BPM

The council had admitted that it had failed to discharge a general health and safety duty to a person other than employee, an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act.In addition to the fine, the council was ordered to pay costs of £13,165, plus a victim surcharge of £181.Speaking after the hearing, council leader Alan White 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."