Conservation group charged over gardener’s tree death

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A CONSERVATION charity has been charged under health and safety laws following the death of a young gardener who was crushed when a tree fell on his van.

The Woodland Trust faces trial over the death of Alex McDonald, who died when a huge tree smashed through the windscreen of his Mercedes Sprinter during heavy winds in Whitburn, West Lothian.

The 25-year-old had been driving ahead of his sister Margaret along the town’s East Main Street when the incident took place on February 22, 2008.

Although she reached him within moments and fire crews battled to release him, he died of his injuries at the scene.

Yesterday, at Livingston Sheriff Court, lawyers for The Woodland Trust entered a not guilty plea to allegations that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 had been breached.

The case will now go to an intermediate diet later this year and a trial date has been set for January next year. If convicted, the charity could face a heavy fine.

The prosecution follows an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into the circumstances surrounding Mr McDonald’s death. The tree, which was one of a number lining the side the road, was owned by The Woodland Trust and the probe had focused on whether they were properly maintained.

The Woodland Trust denies the charges and a spokeswoman for the charity said: “The procurator fiscal has decided it is appropriate to proceed with the prosecution.

“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.”

Mr McDonald, the youngest of six children and a devout Christian, had been on his way to another sister’s house in Livingston to work on her garden when the incident took place three years ago.

Speaking to the Evening News at the time, his sister described him as teetotal and a “fitness fanatic”.

“He was just looking forward to the future,” she said. “He was looking forward to meeting somebody, getting married and having kids. I believe God just takes the good ones sooner than he should.”

The Woodland Trust was established in 1972 and is concerned with the protection and management of native woodland heritage.

It has more than 1000 sites in its care, covering approximately 50,000 acres across the UK. In Scotland it manages 80 woods comprising around 20,000 acres of land.

The case continues in December.

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com