Conservation charity faces fines over gardener death

A prominent conservation charity is facing charges and fines from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a gardener was killed when a tree fell on his van.

The Woodland Trust is being accused of health and safety failings after gardener Alex McDonald, 25, died when a large tree fell and crashed through the windscreen of his van. He was working in Whitburn in West Lothian in 2008 when the incident occurred, during a period of heavy winds.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the Trust entered a not guilty plea when accused of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and the case is set to go to trial in January 2012. The Woodland Trust owned the tree which fell on Mr McDonald’s vehicle, and the case hinges on whether the tree had been properly maintained.

A spokesperson for the Trust stated:

“We’ve pled not guilty because we believe that our current health and safety practices are one of the best within the forestry sector. I’m afraid that’s all we can say at this time.”

If the Woodland Trust is found guilty of the charges, the charity could face a hefty fine. As Mr McDonald was not an employee of the charity, this huge cost could be covered by public liability insurance rather than employers’ liability insurance if the charity has a policy in place.

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