A council has been fined after an oak tree they failed to inspect for a decade fell and killed a dog walker.
Neville Scattergood, 58, 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 3 October, 2019.
Staffordshire County Council, which owns the trail, has now been hit with a £300,000 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.
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 Mr Scattergood, 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, adding that “systems were in place for maintaining trees”.
But district judge Kevin Grego pointed out that the council had no mechanism in place for uncovering the “administrative error”, despite the fact that members of the public had previously raised concerns about 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.
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.”
White said the council have now reviewed their system of checks and maintenance planning and have done “all we can to improve it”.
In addition to the fine, the council was ordered to pay costs of £13,165, plus a victim surcharge of £181.
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