A council has been fined £300,000 over the death of a popular market trader who was killed by a falling tree while walking his dog. 

Neville Scattergood (58) suffered fatal heart arrest when he was struck by an oak branch’s falling bough while on the Isabel Trail, Stafford, in October 2019.

According to a court, the tree had to be inspected by Staffordshire County Council.

But an ‘administrative mistake’ meant it was left off the authority’s inspection list for more than a decade.

According to court testimony, this meant that the oak had not been damaged by inspectors despite 20 complaints from residents about trees on the route.

Court also learned that even if the damage was not obvious, simple pruning would have kept it from falling.

Now the council has accepted safety failings in relation to Mr Scattergood’s death and has been fined £300,000.

Alan White, Council Leader offered an “unreserved apologize” to Mr Scattergood’s family – to whom he once presented an Award for Community Service.

Neville Scattergood, 58, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after being hit by the falling bough of an oak tree while on the Isabel Trail in Stafford in October 2019

Neville Scattergood, age 58, died after being struck by an oak leaf while walking along the Isabel Trail in Stafford.

North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard how Mr Scattergood was out walking his dog at on the Isabel Trail in Stafford on October 3, 2019 when he was struck by a falling oak bough.

Mr Scattergood, a carer who previously ran his own leather goods stall at a local market, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest and died during the incident. 

The court 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 means that at most a decade had passed without any proactive inspection prior to the tragic accident.

Chris Hopkins represented the Health and Safety Executive in the prosecution of the case. He stated that previous damage to trees made them more likely to be blown over, and thus, the matter was not being investigated.

He stated that, if this issue had been identified, simply trimming the tree would have prevented it from falling.

Two complaints per year were received by the council about trees along the Isabel Trail. These had been addressed individually. 

David Lewis represented the county council and said that certain trees were not deliberately ignored by the authority to save money, or for any other reason.

He explained that there are systems to maintain trees at the council. These systems covered more than 99% of the trees.

“Due in part to administrative errors, less than one percent of the trees weren’t inspected.”

Kevin Grego, the District Judge pointed out that no system was in place to discover this error by the council, even though members of public have raised concerns regarding trees along the Isabel Trail.

Judge Grego reported that between 2009 and 2019, there were about 20 reports by the public regarding trees on the Isabel Trail.

There were two types of complaints: one was about maintenance; the other concerned trees that had been damaged.

“The Isabel Trail tree survey was not triggered by these reports. The authority did respond to them.”

According to the Health and Safety at Work Act, the council admitted it had not discharged a general duty of health and safety to an employee.

In addition to the fine, the council was ordered to pay costs of £13,165, plus a victim surcharge of £181.

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.

North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard how Mr Scattergood was out walking his dog at on the Isabel Trail (pictured) in Stafford on October 3, 2019 when he was struck by a falling oak bough

North Staffordshire Justice Centre was informed that Mr. Scattergood, a Staffordshire resident was walking his dog on the Isabel Trail (pictured), when he was hit by an oak bough.

The council acknowledged that it was responsible and met all obligations towards Mr Scattergood’s loved ones as quickly as possible.

“I gave Mr. Scattergood an award once for his efforts in helping others. The death of someone you’ve met, is a reminder of our responsibilities as council members.

“Following this horrible incident, we reviewed our maintenance planning system and checked its checks. We have made every effort to improve them.”

Court heard that Mr. Scattergood often used the Isabel Trail for walking his dog.

He was a former market trader and had his own leather goods stand at St John’s Market Hall in Stafford. White had previously presented him with an award for his community service.

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.

Andrew Haigh, South Staffordshire coroner, recorded an accidental death verdict at the inquest that was held this June.