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I fear shallow-root trees like one that killed driver could fall again: Coroner

By Amanda Ferguson

Published 21/08/2015

Geoffrey Robb
Geoffrey Robb

A senior coroner is to write to Stormont Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to raise concerns about public safety in Co Armagh after a minibus driver was killed by a falling tree earlier this year.

Coroner John Leckey yesterday told the inquest into the death of Geoffrey Robb, from Portadown, he was concerned that trees with shallow roots of just six-eight inches on the Keady Road were another "accident waiting to happen".

The 55-year-old grandfather was killed and colleague Sharon Feathers was seriously injured after a beech tree landed on the minibus he was driving.

A post-mortem revealed he had suffered multiple chest and neck injuries.

The Coroner's findings were:

■ The deceased died from chest and neck injuries sustained when a tree fell on the minibus he was driving on Keady Road, Armagh, on the evening of March 26, 2015.

■ He had not been wearing a seatbelt and he died at the scene.

■ A specialist examination of the tree revealed that it had shallow roots and, along with other surrounding trees, was weight-bearing towards the road.

Mr Leckey noted that Mr Robb's failure to wear a seatbelt had not contributed to his death in any way.

It was previously reported that Mr Robb had suffered a heart attack just weeks before returning to work for Dungannon-based firm Eurocoach - which transports young people with learning difficulties - when the accident happened.

Tree surgeon Colin Hylands told the inquest the fallen beech tree was not planted, but probably grew from a seedling and could have been 150 years old.

Mr Hylands expressed concern about other trees in the vicinity with possible similar shallow root depth and weight bearing toward the busy road.

The inquest heard that efforts to arrange major, specialist maintenance work ended when the farmer who owns the trees reportedly halted proceedings in favour of completing works himself after an issue with financing the cost of closing the road.

Mr Leckey said it was unclear whether the work needed to ensure public safety had been carried out, so he would write to the minister to establish who is responsible for the trees, which straddle private land and a verge on the rural road.

"It strikes me that if the root depth is six-eight inches, there is a high probability other trees will be no different," he said.

Mr Leckey added he would be raising concerns with the Roads Service as there was "potential for another disaster to happen".

A statement from Transport NI provided to the Belfast Telegraph 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 arrange appropriate action, depending on the specific circumstances.

"Transport NI will fully consider the coroner's comments."

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