Council fined after death of six-year-old girl hit by falling tree in school playground

Undated family handout photo issued by Health and Safety Executive of Ella Henderson (PA)
Undated family handout photo issued by Health and Safety Executive of Ella Henderson (PA)

The parents of a six-year-old girl who died after she was hit by a falling tree in her school playground say they hope lessons have been learned after a council was fined £280,000.

Neil and Vikki Henderson said their daughter Ella was "so loved and had so much to give this world" after they heard how she was playing with friends at Gosforth Park First School, in Newcastle, on September 25, 2020, when a decaying willow tree collapsed.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), several other children were hit by the falling tree but managed to escape with superficial injuries. However, Ella had to be freed by emergency services and died later in hospital.

The HSE found the tree was in a poor condition and that Newcastle City Council had failed to manage the risk it posed.

The council pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety law and was fined £280,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,020 at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

Mr and Mrs Henderson said after the hearing: "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.

"We hope lessons will be learned from this and feel there needs to be better education and information around which trees are appropriate for school playgrounds and the size they are allowed to grow to."

In a statement read to court, Mrs Henderson, from Newcastle, said: "We now live with a complete hole in our lives."

HSE principal inspector Victoria Wise said: "The tree that collapsed and hit Ella Henderson in the playground at Gosforth Park First School had decayed and was in a poor condition.

"Newcastle City Council had failed to identify the extent of the decay or to manage the risk posed by the tree.

"This had terrible consequences and Ella’s death was entirely avoidable."

Chief executive of Newcastle City Council, Pam Smith, said the authority fully accepted the sentence of the court.

She said: "Ella’s death was a devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to her family and friends.

"Whilst we take our health and safety responsibilities very seriously, we fully accept that there were failings in our processes which is why we have taken the opportunity to plead guilty to the offence at the first available opportunity."

Ms Smith said the council had reviewed its processes and put in place new procedures to prevent an incident like this happening again.