A coroner is to urge Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to introduce clear legislation following the electrocution of a six-year-old who grabbed an 11,000-volt overhead line while climbing a tree.
NI Senior Coroner John Leckey said he would call for the minister to liaise with Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at the inquest yesterday into the death of little Tia Nagurski.
Mr Leckey concluded that Tia died at Altnagelvin Hospital on September 10, 2009 due to electrocution which occurred when she touched an electricity cable near the top of an elder tree standing between six and seven metres high.
He said Tia was “recognised as having exceptional tree climbing ability” which he added, coupled with her slight build, enabled her to climb so high.
At the opening of the hearing Tia’s mother Natasha described her daughter as someone who “enjoyed the outdoors” and loved to climb.
A pathologist, Dr Lynas, said the post-mortem had found that the electricity had passed through Tia’s right palm, through her heart to her feet, fatally disturbing her heart rhythm.
He added that the cable had produced burn marks on Tia’s hand and he believed she would have been rendered unconscious almost immediately by the electric shock.
Dr Lynas said that electrocution cases were very rare in Northern Ireland, with most cases in the past being domestic or work-related.
PSNI Sergeant Lynne Corbett confirmed that the PSNI were tasked to the scene at Allingham Close in Londonderry after being alerted by the Ambulance Service at around 6.50pm.
On arrival she said she observed Tia lying on the ground and a woman she would later learn was her mother speaking softly to her, while Tia’s father Brian was in a distressed state.
Following Tia’s death principal health and safety inspector with the HSE, John Wright, told the inquest he had written a report into the incident. Working on behalf of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in relation to electricity supply regulations, Mr Wright said he visited the scene with a Panel of Inquiry set up by NIE. He said the electricity line was at the same level as the top of the trees were Tia had been climbing.
Mr Wright said a five yearly tree management inspection patrol was carried out on overhead lines by NIE, at which point tree and shrubbing deemed to be hazardous is cut back. A patrol of the area where Tia died was carried out in February 2009, followed up by a foot patrol three months later.
Mr Wright said the area was not deemed to be an “immediate risk”.
He concluded that proposed amendments should be looked at, as legislation did not give specific instructions. He said recent guidance suggested a three-metre gap between power lines and trees was a safe margin.
Roy Coulter, NIE group safety and risk manager, told the inquest Tia had climbed to the very top of the elder tree and then touched the line.
He also confirmed the trees were cut in this location by the Housing Executive in 2004. Reading from a report he carried out into the tragedy, Mr Coulter said changes in policy should be implemented to remove confusion in regards to tree cutting near overhead lines.
He added: “Everyone at NIE was deeply moved by this tragic event and on behalf of the company, its directors, employees and I as a parent who lost a little daughter, albeit in very different circumstances, we extend our sympathy to Tia’s family.”
He added that in his 35 years in the industry neither he nor any of his colleagues would have believed Tia could have climbed the tree.
Solicitor for the family, Michael Lavery, said Tia’s family wanted to see “nothing left to chance” in future and called for more rigorous inspections of power lines.
Parents still wait for their princess to come home
The parents of little Tia Nagurksi have said that they still expect their little girl to come “bouncing through the door” almost 10 months after her tragic death.
Renowned for her tree climbing skills, the six-year-old St Eithne’s Primary School pupil was doing what she loved best when her life was cut short on the evening of Thursday, September 10 last year.
The young friends with whom she had been playing minutes earlier helped raise the alarm, shouting that Tia had been electrocuted and fallen onto a lower part of the tree.
Tia’s parents arrived at the scene shortly afterwards, with her father Brian and a neighbour trying desperately to free her from the branches of the tree.
Later the same evening, as Tia’s parents were given the devastating news that their daughter had not pulled through, news of the tragedy horrified the local community.
In the days to follow Tia’s family described how their “blue-eyed princess” had dreamed of growing up to win the X Factor and left notes around the family home at Magill Court telling her parents how much she loved them.
Following the inquest into her death in Derry yesterday, the Nagurski family said it was impossible to describe the effects the death of a child has on a family.
“We live every day with the disbelief that Tia went out to play only to come home in a white casket.
“There will always be an empty space in our hearts.
“We are still waiting for Tia to come bouncing through the door,” they said.