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Heartbroken daughter calls for legal change after father is killed by falling tree in Co Tyrone


Helen Sweeney with her dad Noel

Helen Sweeney with her dad Noel

Helen Sweeney with her dad Noel

A heartbroken daughter whose father was killed by a tree in a freak accident in Co Tyrone days before Christmas has spoken of her "complete devastation".

Helen Sweeney told how her dad Noel (57) was just 10 minutes from his Coalisland home when a branch fell on the van he was driving on Trewmont Road in the Moy on December 18 last year. Now the 28-year-old homemaker, who is still struggling to come to terms with her loss, is calling for a change in legislation around the removal of dangerous trees on private land.

"Dad's death was a massive shock," she said. "I'm completely devastated - we all are. He was so young at heart. But unfortunately he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Helen, mum to five-year-old Cabe and two-year-old Iylah, said she later learned that during a storm another tree fell on the same stretch of road just three weeks later.

"On January 14 a full tree came down and it was just luck that it didn't kill or injure anyone," she said.

"When I heard it had happened it was like a smack in the mouth. I would never want another family to go through what we've been through so I knew I had to do something.

"That's why I have been campaigning for a change in the way our roads and land are maintained, especially on that particular road."

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Helen has now launched an online petition to try and force a change in legislation so that no-one else has to deal with "yet another senseless fatality that could easily have been prevented".

Under current legislation, neither the Department for Infrastructure, councils nor the PSNI can remove a tree which has been reported as dangerous without the landowner's permission.

"If a tree is reported or deemed unfit and needs removed off private land, it could take weeks for the permission to be given to remove it," Helen said.

"This means people are in danger of falling victim to a tree or trees while they wait for it to be removed and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do until they have permission."

Helen said the loss of her dad was proving difficult to bear.

"It happened almost two months ago but it still feels very raw," she said.

"He lived his life to help people. He started coaching children's football six years ago and that was what he devoted his spare time to - that and local charity shops. He's a huge loss to the community and our family."

Helen said that while a change in legislation will not alter the fact that her dad is gone, she hopes her efforts will prevent harm coming to anyone else.

The mother-of-two, who now lives in Essex, England, added: "If I can get enough signatures on my Care2 petition I can take this directly to Stormont to be dealt with quickly and efficiently."

She currently has over 800 signatures of the 1,000 goal.

A DfI spokesperson said: "The majority of roadside trees are on lands adjacent to public roads and it is the responsibility of property owners, or occupiers of these lands, to remove trees or cut back any trees/hedges that endanger or obstruct the passage of vehicles or pedestrians.

"Where hazards are identified that endanger or obstruct vehicles or pedestrians, the Department will contact owners to ask them to take appropriate action to remove or cut trees or hedges.

"If that fails, the Department has powers under Article 50 of the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 to serve a notice on the owner/occupier requiring them to remove or cut back trees or hedges so as to remove the danger or obstruction. Where an owner/occupier does not comply with the requirements of the notice, the Department may carry out the necessary works and seek to recover costs.

"The Department carried out an inspection of this location in December following a tragic incident and a number of trees were subsequently removed by the landowner. Further investigations were undertaken following Storm Brendan and the Department will work to have any concerns in relation to public safety addressed."

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