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Tree Tragedy Shows Need For Regular Inspection

The death of a rail passenger who leaned out of a window and was struck by a tree branch could have been avoided with better tree care, an inquest at Avon Coroner’s Court has heard.


Bethan Roper was travelling on a train from Bath to Bristol when the fatal accident occurred in December 2018. The 28-year-old from Glamorgan had been Christmas shopping in Bath and suffered the deadly blow as the train passed through Twerton.


Had problems with the tree that had made it dangerous been identified, a tree surgeon could have come to remove it, but the inquest heard this had not happened due to a lack of inspections.


Speaking at the inquest, aboricultural consultant Julian Forbes-Laird made clear this was his view. Noting that network Rail is meant to check the trees on a five-year cycle, he observed: "Unfortunately, that cycle was not carried out and that tree was not professionally inspected for really quite a number of years and longer than the standard."


He warned that this lack of inspections “leaves gaps in the tree management system which could potentially give rise to far greater cost of life than the single person who lost their life in this case”.


The tree in question had not been inspected since 2009 and had fallen towards the line in 2017. Mr Forbes-Laired had inspected it and found it to have been riddled with wood decay fungi.


Fungus growing on trees can sometimes be seen as harmless by property owners, with mushrooms and other growths being seen as novelties. However, fungi can colonise moist wood and cause it to rot, making trees unstable and prone to leaning or even toppling over completely.


Once a tree has been attacked by fungi it can seldom be saved and usually needs to be felled for safety reasons.

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