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Kew Gardens inquest seeks evidence of "summer branch drop"
A coroner has asked for evidence as to whether poor pruning or a natural phenomenon was to blame for a woman’s death at Kew Gardens.
It was a fluke no one else was killed when a branch of a 200-year-old Lebanese cedar fell fatally on Erena Wilson last year, West London Coroner’s Court heard at a pre-inquest hearing today.
The 31-year-old New Zealander was struck when the branch came down in 26mph gusts on September 23 last year, and the court heard there were concerns about pruning but also the possibility the natural phenomenon “summer branch drop” was to blame.
Coroner Elizabeth Pygott conducted an inquest review before the full investigation.
She said: “I need to know whether summer branch drop was involved in this case.
“I think it is appropriate at the issue of pruning - whether it was or wasn’t pruned and whether, if it was pruned, if it would have made any difference to the outcome.”
John Mclinden QC, representing Miss Wilson’s family, raised concerns about the way the tree had been monitored by Kew.
He said: “Kew is not only a World Heritage Site but it is also a public body.
“The fact of the matter is this is virtually a public place controlled by a public body that has visitors in numbers exceeding 1m a year.”
He said the case of Miss Wilson was of “great public importance”.
Questions were also raised as to whether there were policies in place at Kew to prevent failing trees.
The inquest will resume at West London Coroner’s Court at a later date and is estimated to last one day.
Speaking outside the court, Miss Wilson’s uncle Henry Van Vliet, 52, said: “We miss her so much it is so tragic. We did go there [Kew] to see and feel the area. It brought us all together as a family.
“We know that she was a good person inside and out. She was beautiful.”
Another uncle, 49-year-old Pieter Van Vliet, said the family had not heard of the summer tree branch phenomenon until just a few days ago.
He said: “Kew Gardens has trees and a lot of them so potentially there’s good reason for bringing this up.”
He also thanked Kew Gardens for its support following Miss Wilson’s death and particularly noted the memorial service it put on for her.
A date for the full inquest has not yet been set.
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