Inquest hears of park ranger death

THREE park rangers who organised the felling of a large tree that crashed and killed one of their group "ignored a basic rule of safety" by not planning for an escape route, an inquest heard.

THREE park rangers who organised the felling of a large tree that crashed and killed one of their group "ignored a basic rule of safety" by not planning for an escape route, an inquest heard.

Hadrian Robinson, 28, from Rayne, near Braintree, died from head injuries he suffered when the tree struck him at Chalkney Woods, near Earls Colne, in March last year.

Stephen Hook, who is leading an ongoing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into Mr Robinson's death, told an inquest jury yesterdaythat more precautions should have been taken before the tree was chopped down with a winch and a chainsaw.

The inquest at Shire Hall, Chelmsford, heard that Mr Robinson was part of a three-man Essex County Council team tasked to fell a 35-year-old field maple tree, which had been growing over a resident's garden.

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He and colleague Ian Bailey, both rangers at nearby Flitch Way Country Park, had been asked to help by the Chalkney Woods site manager, Dougal Urquhart, because they were both qualified to use chainsaws.

Former Writtle College student Mr Robinson and Mr Urquhart agreed that because the 12metre-high tree was leaning towards the resident's garden, which was separated from the woods by a fence and a ditch, the team would need to use a winch to pull the timber in the opposite direction.

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The inquest heard that the tree was split into three separate stumps one metre up the trunk and Mr Robinson used the chainsaw to bring down the first stump.

The team then decided to anchor the winch to a lime tree 50m away from the fence, attach a cable high up the tree and pull it down after Mr Robinson had made another cut with his chainsaw.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr Bailey said: "Hadrian and Dougal set up the strop in the tree, but I thought it should go higher.

"I took up the tension in the wire and Hadrian began to cut. At one point, I think he believed he had cut it and he stood back and looked at me.

"I couldn't pull any more, then I heard Dougal call out. The tree started to fall and Hadrian was walking away."

But Mr Robinson did not realise it was falling in his direction and it crashed on top of him causing him fatal head injuries, the jury heard.

A tearful Mr Bailey added: "I ran over and found him lying under the limb. I thought he was breathing, I so I prepared to resuscitate him, but when I went to clear his airwaves and I realised it was far more serious and I didn't think there was any point continuing."

The air ambulance arrived but the elder of two brothers was confirmed dead later that day on March 27, Essex coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray was told.

Norfolk-based tree surgeon expert David Walker inspected the site at the request of the HSE and raised a number of concerns.

He said that if he had been asked to perform the felling, he would have carried out a full risk assessment, which would have highlighted the need for an escape route should the tree fall in the wrong direction.

In this case he would have insisted that the fence be removed, he said.

He also doubted he would have used a winch and instead would have felled the "difficult" tree by climbing and dismantling it from the top. "This was not a simple job," he added.

HSE inspector Mr Hook said: "It was obvious that a basic rule of safety had been ignored. The fence completely obstructed the escape route. I also had other concerns - no one in that team had experience of directional felling, which is a rather difficult area."

A post mortem revealed Mr Robinson died of head injuries and that no alcohol or drugs were present in his blood.

After the jury returned a verdict of accidental death, the victim's mother, Eileen Robinson, from Harlow, said: "This decision will now allow us to grieve properly because it's been hanging over us. He was doing the job he loved."

Mr Robinson's girlfriend Lisa Goodman said: "Hadrian was an amazing young man, whom I fell in love with.

"He was responsible, honest, reliable, kind and not a risk taker.

"He enjoyed his job, and had a passion for the countryside and for wildlife - he should not have died."

Graham Tombs, head of waste, recycling and environment at Essex County Council, said: "We have conducted our own internal investigation into what happened and reached our own conclusions, but we await the HSE report – the whole episode was a terrible tragedy."

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