Mother and teenage daughter killed when tree left to rot in heatwave fell and crushed their car, inquest hears

June 23, 2022

A mother and daughter were killed when a tree, that was left to decay after a heatwave, fell on their car, an inquest has heard.

Elaine Reason, 56, and Grace, 16, died when the mature beech crushed the Land Rover Freelander.

The 'extensive' deterioration of the tree was exacerbated by the 2018 heatwave, one of the hottest summers on record which saw temperatures peak at 35.3C (95.5F).

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Mrs Reason was driving with her daughter in the front passenger seat on the B4077 at Stanway Hill, near Winchcombe, in the Cotswolds, when the tree uprooted in medium winds.

They both suffered multiple injuries and were declared dead at the scene of the tragedy, which happened at 10.15pm on 21 November 2019, Gloucester Coroner's Court heard.

In a statement released at the time, relatives said the mother and daughter had "touched many hearts and would remain with us and others forever".

Gloucestershire Police commissioned an independent expert during an investigation into the management of the tree, located on land owned by trustees of the Stanway Estate.

A visual inspection in 2013 and ultrasound test to detect internal decay found it was within the "acceptable range".

A second investigation in 2017 found no "overall change" - but annual inspections were recommended due to the tree's close proximity to the road, deemed high risk.

But no evidence was found of any annual inspections being completed in 2018 or the following year.

According to a report by arboriculture consultant, Simon Cox, the tree roots failed due to extensive decay caused by a common root fungi.

This meant the roots could not support the tree and led to it falling over, the inquest heard.

Reading the report, Assistant Gloucestershire Coroner, Roland Wooderson, said: "Mr Cox is of the opinion the heatwave of 2018 sped up the tree's decline."

The coroner also pointed to visible signs of decay.

He added: "Mr Cox is of the opinion the tree had been showing signs of distress and could fail for a number of years previously.

"If the recommendation of annual inspection was in place, Mr Cox is of the opinion the tree would have been identified in 2018 or 2019 as requiring felling or severe pruning to prevent it from falling."

Read more from Sky News:

Potatoes shrink by an inch during 2018 heatwave
Met office redefines heatwaves for parts of England as climate changes

Police interviewed two people during the investigation but took no further action - nor did watchdog the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr Wooderson recorded a verdict of accidental death for both Mrs Reason and her daughter.

"It is clear from the evidence Mrs Reason died when a tree fell and hit the motor vehicle in which she was driving," he said.

"Grace died as a result of injuries suffered when a tree fell and hit a motor vehicle in which she was a passenger."

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