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February 23, 2009

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No charges after boy crushed by tree

The HSE will be bringing no safety charges against the National Trust after a young boy was killed by a falling tree in one of its parks.

But the Executive has refused to comment on whether the prospect of attracting potential negative media publicity, with regard to what some see as over-excessive health and safety regulations, influenced the decision.

Eight-year-old Timothy Sutton was killed on New Year’s Day 2005, while walking through Dunham Massey Park in Altringham. He was crushed under a rotting beech tree, which was blown over by high winds as he walked past.

The regulator decided against a prosecution of the National Trust, claiming a conviction was unlikely. An HSE spokesperson said: “This was a complex case, and HSE’s conclusion that there was no realistic prospect of a conviction for any breaches of health and safety law reflects the opinions sought from expert witnesses and legal advisors. However, the HSE recognises that decision was difficult and unwelcome for Timothy’s family.”

The National Trust’s chairman, and former editor of The Times, Sir Simon Jenkins, is an outspoken critic of what he perceives as a “compliance culture” brought about by the introduction of a whole host of business-related regulations, such as health and safety. He also vented his anger after the property manager at Dunham Massey Park was brought in for questioning following the accident. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph published earlier this month, he said: “People must be liberated from a total risk-aversion mentality. Was it right that a property manager should be arrested because of a freak accident in which a young boy was killed by a falling branch from one of the Trust’s five million trees?”

The Trust has now welcomed the Executive’s decision not to prosecute. It claimed that it has tree-management procedures in place, which are “above the legal requirements demanded by health and safety legislation”. A spokesperson from the Trust added: “We welcome the conclusion that there was nothing to suggest that safety standards did not meet legal and statutory requirements. We continue to extend our sympathy to Timothy’s family and friends and remain deeply saddened by the accident.”

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