Gardener died in freak mower crash

A YOUNG landscape gardener was killed in a tragic accident when he crashed into a tree branch while cutting grass with a ride-on lawn mower he had not been trained to use, an inquest heard.

By Juliette Maxam

A YOUNG landscape gardener was killed in a tragic accident when he crashed into a tree branch while cutting grass with a ride-on lawn mower he had not been trained to use, an inquest heard.

Elliott Wilson, 24, from Chelmsford, died of a fatal neck injury when he was mowing an orchard at the home of Geoffrey Bell, in Creeksea, Burnham-on-Crouch, on July 3, 2004, a jury inquest heard yesterday.

Mr Wilson, who was working for Galleywood-based Acer Landscapes, had not been trained to drive the Walker ride-on mower, but when he got to Burnham he asked his supervisor, Gary Walls, if he could cut the grass.


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He had previously received a written warning from the company for using a vehicle he was not authorised to use, according to Acer Landscapes managing director William Broomfield.

Mr Walls said he showed Mr Wilson how to use the mower and watched him for about 20 minutes before starting to weed the flower beds.

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“I said to Elliott: 'Leave wide berths around obstacles and trees because we strim around them',” said Mr Walls, who checked on Mr Wilson from time to time before lunch.

The Chelmsford inquest heard after lunch Mr Walls went to check on him and found him in the orchard. He described seeing Mr Wilson with his head back to one side, his hands down over the lever controls and a tree branch across his neck.

Mr Walls went to get Mr Bell, who was making preparations for a children's birthday party inside his house.

“Gary was clearly distressed, very distressed. He explained there'd been a terrible accident and he thought Elliott was dead. I immediately rushed out with Gary. Elliott was down the bottom of the garden, about 50 to 80 yards away.

“I went with Gary very quickly. Halfway down the garden, Gary just collapsed in a heap and was unable to go any further. I said: 'I've got to go to see what's happened',” said Mr Bell.

When he got to Mr Wilson he could see he was unconscious and rushed back to the house to call the ambulance.

No-one carried out any first aid or stayed with Mr Wilson before the ambulance arrived. He was airlifted to Southend Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Health and Safety inspector Stephen Hook, who investigated the case, said: “It's impossible to say categorically what happened. One thing that was obvious, whatever Elliott had been instructed he was getting as close to trees as he possibly could. Some trees had been cut right up to the trunks.

“It's conceivable he simply did not see the branch and ran into it. It's conceivable if something had gone wrong, perhaps he felt he was going too fast and lack of familiarity with that kind of machine could have led to him not making a suitable response.”

An inspection of the mower found various faults, including a non-functioning cut-out switch, but Mr Hook said it would not have stopped the accident had it been working, although it may have mitigated it.

Mr Broomfield said the company had set up training courses on using motor mowers. He said every employee was aware they could only use equipment they had been trained to use, a message reinforced in an induction and health and safety course.

The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death.

After the inquest, Mr Wilson's parents, Kevin and Jan, brother and sister Daniel and Anna, and partner Anna Frost, paid tribute to him, describing him as a hard worker who was keen to progress within the company and had been waiting to go on a training course to become a supervisor.

He had helped to renovate his and Miss Frost's home and had nearly finished designing their own garden.

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