Tayside and Central Scotland

Man killed felling tree was 'a genuine tragic accident'

Forfar Sheriff Court
Image caption Forfar Sheriff Court was told Mr Phillips was highly experienced and used appropriate tools

The death of a man killed when he was crushed by a tree he was cutting down has been ruled "a genuine tragic accident" by a sheriff.

John Phillips died aged 29 on land in Angus owned by the family of his life-long friend, David Cochrane.

The two men were felling trees beside a road at Auchindorie Farm, near Kirriemuir, on 14 March, 2013 when the incident happened.

Sheriff Gregor Murray said that the accident "could not have been avoided."

In a written judgement following a fatal accident inquiry last December, Sheriff Murray said: "Self-evidently, tree felling is an inherently dangerous process.

"What occurred was, on the evidence of this case, a genuine tragic accident, reflective of the remaining risks.

"Mr Phillips was highly experienced, wore safety clothing, used appropriate tools and utilised safe techniques.

"He had already felled many trees, including larger specimens, at the locus over two days without incident."

Image copyright Paul Reid
Image caption David Cochrane told the inquiry there was nothing he could have done to save his friend

Mr Cochrane told the inquiry at Forfar Sheriff Court that he had been operating a Caterpillar Telehandler machine which was attached to the trees they were cutting by a wire.

Mr Phillips, who worked as a tree cutter, used a chainsaw to cut the trees down.

He had used a smaller chainsaw to cut the tree after the bar of a larger chainsaw jammed in the tree trunk and its chain became disconnected.

The inquiry heard Mr Phillips was only trained to cut trees up to 380mm (15in) wide - but that the tree he was working on was 1,100mm (43in) wide.

However, a Forestry Commission expert said he had been using the correct tools and techniques.

Sheriff Murray said: "Though Mr Phillips did not hold City & Guilds Certificates for felling trees with a trunk diameter in excess of 380 millimetres, there was no suggestion he ought not to have worked with such trees or that the techniques he employed felling them were in any way inappropriate."

'No going back'

Mr Cochrane told the inquiry that he was in a telehandler, which was attached to the other end of the wire, around 60 metres [197ft] away.

Mr Cochrane said: "He gave me the thumbs up and I began to move to pull the tree down towards me.

"Instead of coming towards me, the tree broke away from the stump and fell the wrong way.

"There was no going back once it broke off - there's nothing you can really do and it could have fallen in any direction."

Mr Cochrane told the court that once the tree had broken, Mr Phillips had tried to run away to get himself clear, but the tree had landed on top of him.

Sheriff Murray noted: "It should be stressed that the expert witness had no criticism of the course of action adopted by Mr Phillips after the first saw jammed and its chain disconnected.

"That amplifies the accidental nature of what occurred and, of course, the deep sadness of its outcome, not least Mr Cochrane witnessing a fatal accident involving a close friend."

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