Man’s death raises tree safety concerns

Geoffrey Robb.
Geoffrey Robb.

The coroner at the inquest into the death of a Portadown man who was killed when a tree fell on his minibus is to write to the DRD Minister in a bid to prevent such a tragedy happening again.

Mr John Leckey, who was presiding at last week’s inquest into the death of 55-year-old Geoffrey Robb, has raised concerns about the safety of other trees at the same spot.

Mr Robb, who lived at Kingsway Drive, was killed on March 26 this year in the freak accident on the Keady Road around 4.45pm.

He had returned to his job with Eurocoach in Dungannon just three weeks previously after recovering from a heart attack.

He died on the scene from head and neck injuries, while his passenger and colleague, Sharon Feathers, was injured.

Tree surgeon Colin Hylands, who examined the tree, was one of a number of witnesses who gave evidence. He said, “There was no sign of weakness or disease. It was a beech tree and had a maximum root depth of six to eight inches... It is very difficult to say exactly why it came down.”

Mr Hylands said he subsequently spoke to the land owner and told him that the surrounding trees would require “urgent maintenance” as there was a bus stop close by and the trees were weight-bearing toward the road.

He told the inquest that a date had been arranged to carry out the work - which would require the road to be closed - but that the landowner later phoned him and said he was going to do the work himself.

The court heard there had been strong winds in the Armagh area earlier that day but at the time of the accident the weather was fine.

Solicitor Evelyn Melanophy of James H Rodgers & Co Solicitors, representing Mrs Feathers and the Robb family, said that when she visited the scene in July, the tree behind the bus stop had been cut.

But Mr Leckey questioned whether enough work had been done, saying, “I am concerned that unless appropriate action is taken, there is potential for another disaster to happen.

“People can’t sit on their hands. We need pro-activity to prevent a reoccurrence.”

Presenting his findings, Mr Leckey concluded that Mr Robb had died when a tree fell onto his car. He noted that it had a very shallow rooting system and, along with surrounding tree, was weight-bearing toward the road.

He extended his deep sympathy to the family of Mr Robb.

A spokesperson for Transport NI said, “In the course of our routine safety inspections, Transport NI notes trees and hedges within or immediately adjacent to road boundaries that are causing obstructions or are obviously dangerous.

“We then take arrange appropriate action, depending on the specific circumstances.

“Transport NI will fully consider the coroner’s comments.”