Apology after death of Ella Henderson, 6, crushed by tree in school playground

Ella Henderson, 6, died after being crushed by a falling tree at Gosforth Park First School in September 2020. Credit: Family photo.

Newcastle’s lord mayor has issued an apology for the “unimaginable” tragedy that saw a six-year-old girl killed by a falling tree at a city school.

Ella Henderson was crushed by a decayed willow tree that collapsed while she was playing with friends in the playground of Gosforth Park First School in September 2020.

On Tuesday, Newcastle City Council was fined £280,000 after pleading guilty to failings that led to Ella’s death.

The authority was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive, with an investigation having found that the council had failed to fully identify the dangerous state of the tree or properly inform the school of its poor state.

As the council met for the first time in 2023 on Wednesday night, lord mayor Karen Robinson opened the meeting by offering condolences to Ella’s family.

The Liberal Democrat councillor, who represents the Dene and South Gosforth ward, said: “We have fully admitted our failings in this case and have implemented new procedures to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. 

“On behalf of us all, I would like to express my profound condolences to Ella’s family. We once again apologise unreservedly for their unimaginable loss.”

Several children were hit by the falling tree when it came down on 25 September, 2020 during the school’s lunchtime.

While the others were able to climb to safety, Ella became trapped under a heavy section of the tree. She was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she died the next morning as a result of her injuries.

A court heard on Tuesday how the council, which was responsible for tree management at the school, had failed to properly investigate the willow’s condition following an inspection back in February 2018 that had identified the need for another detailed look at it again within six months.

District Judge Zoe Passfield fined the council £280,000 for its part in Ella’s death, which she said “could have been avoided”, and said the authority had “failed to appreciate the seriousness” of the risks posed by the tree.

Ella’s parents, Neil and Vikki Henderson, paid tribute to their beloved daughter and called for lessons to be learned.

In a statement issued after the hearing at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, they said: “We are devastated beyond words to hear of the number of times that this outcome could and should have been changed. No family should ever have to go through what we are going through.”

The council said it had taken numerous steps since the tragedy, including adopting a new tree policy and improving staff training.

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