5000 trees chopped down after Bridget Wright accident

Bridget Wright

Bridget Wright

More than 5000 trees have been chopped down at schools across NSW with $13 million spent on "tree safety works" following the playground accident in February in which eight-year-old Bridget Wright was killed by a falling limb from a gum tree.

The Department of Education confirmed that arborist assessments had been completed for 1960 out of 2181 school sites (89 per cent) and that 5042 trees had been removed.

Arborists recommended lopping and removal of trees at 1587 school sites and the work is expected to be completed by the end of next month.

But the program, financed by the department, has been condemned as a knee-jerk reaction by one of the country's leading arborists who confirmed that he had been paid for work under the scheme.

The seven-metre branch fell from the tree at Pitt Town Public School at lunchtime as children settled to eat their lunches after the 1pm bell.

Two other children, Matilda Hurst, 5, and her brother Thomas, 7, as well as teacher Warren Minton, were injured.

The tree was immediately removed.

Bridget's father James Wright later told Fairfax: "I haven't broken down yet. At some point I am going to break down, I'm going to go to a big puddle on the floor and that's when it is really going to hit home."

Now Veritas Law Firm has been engaged by the Wright and Hurst families to investigate legal action against the Education Department.

Managing director Ramy Qutami said: "It has been six months since the accident and no admission of liability or assistance provided, despite such requests being made. The families are considering legal action."

At the time Mark Hartley, a director of peak industry body Arboriculture Australia, visited the school and photographed the damaged branch which he said had sustained a fracture probably about three months before the accident.

He said he had inspected trees at 50 or 60 schools.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "I haven't had any urgent works but there has been work done at a number of them. It's a huge amount of expenditure.

If it was aimed at trying to prevent another fatality it is entirely ineffective.

"It has achieved some maintenance to some trees but it is not going to significantly alter harm or mortality rates from trees at schools. They are so low that it is inconceivable that they would alter them. If you look at the mortality rate there has been one in every 30 million student years. To think that there were three trees at each school that were of immediate risk of killing children is almost statistically inconceivable.

"This expenditure would have been better allocated elsewhere. They would have been better off developing a policy and some educational material for principals and staff about what to look for in finding defective trees and to have only trees inspected that they had concerns about. That would have meant a substantially lower cost."    

A Department of Education spokesman said the arborist reports would be considered in the development of guidelines for maintaining trees on NSW government school sites to be drawn up by the end of the year.

There would also be clear advice about the kinds of trees that should be planted in proximity to schools, he said.

With the possibility of legal action on the horizon, Mr Wright declined to make any further comment.

At the time he said Bridget, a popular girl who had a nine-year-old sister, Abigail, was a master at taekwondo and was always ready to try new activities.

"I'm not angry. We don't know who to be angry at," he said. "One thing you are taught in taekwondo is you don't do anything in anger.

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