Erena Wilson Kew Gardens death: Branch fall 'like lightning crack'

Family handout photo of Erena Wilson Image copyright PA
Image caption Erena Wilson was walking through the tourist spot in south west London when her friend heard a "loud crack"

A mother heard a sound "like a lightning crack" just before her friend was killed by a falling branch at Kew Gardens, an inquest has heard.

Erena Wilson, 31, from Hanwell, west London, was walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens when a large branch crashed down on her. She died from fatal head injuries.

John McLinden QC said it was a "fluke" others did not suffer serious injuries.

The trees were regularly assessed and given a hazard rating, the court heard.

The inquest was told it had been raining heavily earlier and that tree branches were vulnerable to dropping off suddenly when they endured long, dry spells followed by heavy rain - known as "summer branch drop".

But Kew Gardens failed to put up signs warning of the danger because it deemed the risk to be so minimal, Mr McLinden said.

Image caption The inquest heard that Kew Gardens failed to put up signs warning of the danger

Ms Wilson, who was born in Wellington, New Zealand, was walking along a main path with Tess Marshall on 23 September 2012 when she noticed a large Cedar of Lebanon branch crashing down from above.

Ms Marshall said she screamed "run", before running away herself. When she looked back, she saw her friend lying on the ground surrounded by debris from the tree.

"We were chatting and then, all of a sudden, I hear this crack like a lightning crack," Ms Marshall said.

"There was a whole load of foliage, branches and stuff just falling above my head.

"As I was running, I thought the whole tree was falling over. I was sure it was going to hit me. I was running away and then I heard a heavy thud."

'We were lucky'

Ms Marshall's three-year-old daughter Ruby, who was having a birthday party in the gardens, had dashed ahead and "ran free" with her uncle just minutes before the branch fell, the court heard.

Ms Marshall's brother, who had been walking ahead, ran back and gave CPR until paramedics and an air ambulance arrived.

But Ms Wilson suffered severe head injuries, including fractures, bruising on her left side and scalp and an extensive brain injury and died later. A post mortem found she died of multiple injuries.

Patrick Blakesley, representing Kew Gardens, said that in more than 50 years, some 66 million people had visited the gardens and only one other person had been killed by a tree.

He said: "This was, on any view, a terrible freak accident."

Tony Kirkham, the head of arboretum at Kew, told the court he believed that the branch fall was triggered by a downpour and wind.

"There was heavy rain - 5mm of rain fell in the hour before the branch fell," he said.

He dismissed the theory that the branch fell because of "summer branch drop", because this tended to happen in more humid conditions.

Mr Kirkham said all trees were regularly assessed and given a hazard rating to decide whether work was needed.

The tree in question was last inspected in September 2011 - a year before the accident - and no pruning work was recommended, he said.

The inquest at West London Coroner's Court continues.

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