Dog walker, 58, crushed to death by oak tree that fell after council failings

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Neville Scattergood suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after being hit by the falling bough of an oak tree while he was walking his dogs in Stafford in October 2019

Neville Scattergood died after being hit by a falling tree in 2019
Neville Scattergood died after being hit by a falling tree in 2019

A council has been fined £300,000 after a dog walker was killed by a falling tree on a public footpath.

Neville Scattergood, 58, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after being hit by the falling oak tree on the Isabel Trail in Stafford on October 3, 2019.

Now Staffordshire County Council, which owns the trail, has now been fined after previously admitting breaking health and safety laws.

The council leader apologised “unreservedly” for the tragedy, StokeOnTrent Live reports.

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’.

An ‘administrative mistake’ meant no inspection had happened on the tree for a decade
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Image:

Pamela Whittaker)

This meant that no proactive inspection had taken place for at least a decade prior to the fatal accident.

Chris Hopkins, who prosecuted the case for the Health and Safety Executive, told the court that this meant previous damage to the tree, which made it more likely to fall, had gone undetected. If this problem had been detected, simply pruning the tree could have removed the risk of it falling.

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.

The court heard that 58-year-old Neville, who regularly used the Isabel Trail to walk his dogs, was a carer, and had been presented with an award by council leader Alan White for his service to the community.

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.”

But District Judge Kevin Grego pointed out that the council had no mechanism in place for uncovering this error, despite the fact that members of the public had previously raised concerns about trees on the Isabel Trail.

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.

“The authority responded to these reports, but they did not trigger a more general look at the trees on the Isabel Trail.”

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.

“Although it can be no consolation to those affected, the Council has fully acknowledged its responsibility and has met its obligations to Mr Scattergood’s family at the earliest opportunity.

“I once presented Mr Scattergood an award for his work helping others and the death in this way of someone you have met is a stark reminder of the responsibilities we carry as a council.

“Following this terrible incident, we have reviewed our system of checks and maintenance planning and done all we can to improve it.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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