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Death crush tree 'was a danger'

A tree which collapsed on top of a car and killed the driver should have been removed, an expert has told an inquest.

A large split and hollow base were discovered in the trunk of the massive beech tree after it keeled over in winds of up to 70mph near Downpatrick in Co Down last year.

Married mother-of-two Mairead Shields, 35, was crushed beneath the roof of the vehicle.

Hugh Press, an estate agent for Dunleith Estates, which owns the land on which the tree was situated, said they inspected all their trees every year for signs of decay - by means of a drive-by inspection.

Investigator Dr Philip Blackstock told the Downpatrick inquest: "Any inspection that included peering through the laurel bush at its base would have clearly indicated the presence of large cavities." He said an investigator should have realised that the tree was in a dangerous condition and confirmed somebody ought to have taken steps to ensure its safety.

He added there was a 9mm split and the hollowness in the tree started at the bottom and extended up into the tree.

Mrs Shields, mother of two daughters aged four and three, was comforted at the scene after she was trapped in the vehicle by the tree close to Downpatrick in January last year.

Witness Sophie Crawford saw her swerve, probably to avoid the tree and falling electricity wires. She added that a branch of the huge tree, caught in some bush, came loose and the tree fell further, forcing the roof of the car to bend in on itself, rapidly crushing its victim in the front of the car.

On that day, January 17 2009, the weather was extreme with heavy rain and strong gales. A total of 34 trees fell in the two hours before and after the incident and Roads Service engineer Stephen Duffy said it was the worst wind damage he had seen for 10 years.

Coroner Brian Sherrard expressed his sympathies to the family and recorded that the victim had died from positional asphyxia after she suffered injuries including a fractured breast bone.

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