'Terrible accident': Tree surgeon fell 20ft from a tree in Hornchurch, inquest told
PUBLISHED: 16:10 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:55 09 July 2019
A tree surgeon who fell to his death from a tree in Hornchurch hadn't replaced a stolen safety harness, an inquest heard.
John Hilden, 38, from Basildon, was working in Nelmes Close on Saturday, December 8 last year when he fell from a tree while cutting branches.
He fell around 20ft onto a fence panel and suffered severe injuries to his ribs and chest.
His brother-in-law Daniel Bradwick was working with John when he fell.
Speaking at the inquest today (Thursday, July 4), Daniel said John had owned a safety harness but it had been stolen along with his equipment a few months before the incident.
"He was looking at harnesses a week before the accident and he just didn't get around to buying it," said Daniel.
"We went to a store somewhere near Southend to buy one and he was debating it, but then we had to go to another job.
"He didn't need safety equipment to make him feel safe.
"He was just a confident man. He had been doing it for so long."
On the day of the incident John was cutting down a large conifer just outside his client's property.
Branches from the tree were protruding into the client's property and they were in agreement with their neighbours that the tree should be cut down.
The father-of-four was using a ladder and chainsaw to cut down the remaining stumps from the tree trunk.
He was not wearing a safety harness.
John would pause from trimming to allow Daniel to collect the branch cuttings from the ground and take them to the front of the house to be disposed off later.
The tree was one of the biggest Daniel had seen John scale - around 50ft.
He said: "I was halfway in the garden, dragging a branch when I heard a scream.
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"I turned around and what it looked like to me, was that John was on the top of the ladder and his foot slipped.
"I saw him land on the fence panel.
"At first I thought he was badly winded. He couldn't speak and he was groaning."
Daniel called for help, and a woman living at the property who had just returned from a night shift at Basildon Hospital, rushed outside to help.
She administered CPR until the London Ambulance Service and air ambulance arrived.
Despite the doctor and paramedics' best efforts, John died at the scene at 12.30pm.
A post-mortem examination revealed the cause of death as blunt trauma to the chest.
Coroner Ian Wade QC concluded that John died as the result of a "terrible accident".
He said: "This is not a suspicious incident. John was perfectly healthy before he climbed the ladder.
"There was no direct eye witness to the moment in which he began his unintended, horrific descent, and on the balance of probabilities he slipped.
"Accidents can happen to even the most accomplished practitioner.
"He was a very good tree surgeon but on this particular day an unforeseen event overwhelmed him and he fell."
John had been working as a tree surgeon for more than 20 years.
His mum, Tina O' Connor, described her son as a, "happy go-lucky chap who looked forward to the future".
She said: "John was a hardworking man who lived for his work and his children. He did not smoke or drink.
"He loved doing his work. I'm proud to call him my son."
John's step-father, George O' Connor added: "He was well liked and respected by customers, friends and family a-like.
"He was a great guy."