Erena Wilson Kew Gardens death: Branch fall 'an accident'

Family handout photo of Erena Wilson Image copyright PA
Image caption Erena Wilson suffered fatal head injuries when a large branch fell on her at Kew Gardens

The death of a woman who was fatally injured when a large branch fell on her at Kew Gardens, south-west London, was an accident, an inquest jury has found.

Erena Wilson, 31, from Hanwell, west London, was walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens when the branch crashed down on her in September 2012.

The accounts manager was attending a three-year-old's birthday party when the "freak accident" took place, West London Coroner's Court heard.

Ms Wilson died from head injuries.

'Ghastly accident'

Returning a conclusion of accidental death, the foreman said the jury found "there is insufficient evidence to establish the cause of the branch failure".

Assistant Coroner Elizabeth Pygott said the death was a "ghastly accident" but she would not be making a Prevention of Future Deaths report.

The inquest heard it was pure "fluke" that Ms Wilson's friend Tess Marshall and her daughter Ruby, who was celebrating her birthday, were not hurt as they were all walking along a main path when the large Cedar of Lebanon branch came crashing down.

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

Giving evidence Ms Marshall said she ran after hearing a "crack like lightning" and saw the thick branch which "blocked out the sky" fall. Her daughter had run ahead moments earlier.

When she turned she saw New Zealand-born Ms Wilson lying face-down with blood coming out of her mouth and ears. She suffered severe head injuries, including fractures, bruising on her left side and scalp and an extensive brain injury.

During the inquest John McLinden QC, representing Ms Wilson's family, said it had been raining heavily hours before the incident, which could lead to "summer branch drop", particularly after long dry spells.

Kew Gardens had failed to put up warning signs because it had deemed the risk as minimal, and the lawyer also questioned why trees had not been fenced off.

But Patrick Blakesley, a lawyer representing Kew, said it was a "terrible freak accident", adding 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.

'Unlikely and unforeseeable'

The inquest also heard from Tony Kirkham, head of arboretum at Kew, who said the "branch deluge was triggered by a wind squall" with gusts of up to 30mph.

He dismissed suggestions that summer branch drop caused the accident, saying it had been the wettest summer since records began, and that warning signs would have been an over-reaction.

Jeremy Barrell, a tree expert called by Ms Wilson's family, disagreed and dubbed Kew's system of tree inspection "a shambles". The death could have been avoided if the tree, which dated back to 1730, had been pruned, he said.

In a statement on behalf of Ms Wilson's parents, Chris Wilson and Elizabeth Shelley, called for more research to "raise public awareness of the deadliness of summer branch drop".

They said: "The loss of our darling daughter, Erena, shattered us as a family.

"If one death can be prevented and one family saved from having to go through this, then some good will have come from this tragedy."

After the inquest Richard Barley, director of horticulture at Kew, said: "The jury has found that there was no identifiable cause of branch failure from this tree that caused this tragic accident."

He added that it would be "inappropriate to place warning signs because it is such an unlikely thing to happen and it is so unforeseeable".

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