Newcastle City Council fined over death of Ella Henderson, 6, who was hit by falling tree at school

Ella Henderson was playing with friends at Gosforth Park First School in Newcastle on 25 September 2020 when a decaying willow tree collapsed. Credit: Family handout

Newcastle City Council have been fined £280,000 after the death of a six-year-old girl who was hit by a falling tree while she was at school.

Ella Henderson was playing with friends at Gosforth Park First School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 25 September 2020 when a decaying willow tree collapsed.

The Year 2 pupil was freed from under the tree by emergency services and taken to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she died the following morning.

Newcastle City Council pleaded guilty at South Tyneside Magistrates Court on Tuesday 10 January, to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The council was also fined £280,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,020, which it has 15 months to pay.

  • Video report by Rachel Bullock.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Inspector, Ashfaq Ali, said: “This terrible incident led to the avoidable death of a young girl. HSE hopes others will learn from what happened to Ella. Our thoughts remain with Ella’s family.”  

In a statement, Ella’s mum Vikki Henderson, from Newcastle, said: “Up until 25th Sept 2020 we had the perfect life.

"There was not one thing we would have changed. We had two happy, healthy, little girls who were just the best of friends and life was amazing.

“Having lived that life, we now live with a complete hole in our lives. Having a six year old who loves life and wakes up every morning with ‘What are we doing today, Mummy?’, loving everything we did and everywhere we went, to suddenly this life, is just indescribable.

"Taking her big sister places now and knowing how much she would love everywhere we go and taking photos without her is heart breaking.

“It’s not just the big things like birthdays, holidays and Christmas, it’s also all the small everyday things like not washing her clothes, not buying her toys or clothes but knowing what she’d love, not setting her place at the table or booking a table in a restaurant for four.

“Going to restaurants and being constantly asked ‘just one child’ and having the empty chair at a table for four.

"Staying in a cottage and instead of her sharing a room together with her sister, there is now an empty bed. It’s just a constant reminder, not that we will ever need one, that she’s not here.

“Seeing everyone’s life move on and their kids and her friends getting older while we stay still; always with a six year old who will never get her front teeth is devastating.

“When you lose a child you live two lives. The one you should be living and the life you have to live. 

“Knowing how happy we would be and what we would have done in the last two years compared to the life we’ve had to live couldn’t be further apart.

Credit: Northumbria Police

“The hardest part is that all we did was what every other parent does every day. She should have been so safe at school and knowing that I’m the only one who doesn’t get to pick their child up every day is just the worst feeling. 

“When I pass schools on the way somewhere and hear that innocent noise of children playing, I think, that was all she was doing. She was just playing ballerinas with her friends.

“Life is so unfair, and she was so loved and had so much to give this world. As her reception teacher said, 'The world is a much sadder place without Ella in it.'

“Every single part of our lives has changed. Getting up every morning, knowing it’s another day without her and another day she’ll miss. 

“Being six and healthy makes it very hard to process that she’s not here. I live for my girls and I loved taking them to school every day and picking them up, and doing everything with them, and knowing that I will never take her to school, or a party or holiday again – there are no words to describe how this feels.

“I read something online that sums up this life and it said 'When you died my heart was torn in two. One side is filled with heartache and the other died with you.'"

The HSE report into Ella Henderson's death read: "The tree that collapsed and hit Ella Henderson in the playground at Gosforth Park First School had decayed and was in a poor condition.

"Newcastle City Council had failed to identify the extent of the decay or to manage the risk posed by the tree.

"This had terrible consequences and Ella’s death was entirely avoidable.

"Organisations with a responsibility to manage tree health must understand the importance of ensuring that trees in places where there are people, such as playgrounds and schools, are routinely inspected and any faults identified are appropriately managed.

"Our thoughts today are with Ella’s family and her many friends."

Pam Smith, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said: “Ella’s death was a devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to her family and friends.

“Whilst we take our health and safety responsibilities very seriously, we fully accept that there were failings in our processes which is why we have taken the opportunity to plead guilty to the offence at the first available opportunity. We note the Judge’s comments today and fully accept the sentence of the court.

“Immediately following the incident, we reviewed our processes and as a result, we have put in place new procedures to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

“We would like to offer our sincere and profound condolences and apologise unreservedly to Ella’s family for their unimaginable loss.”

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