A tree surgeon took a selfie as he clutched hold of a 75ft conifer a day before he fell to his death before he joked with his mother that the job would ‘kill him’, an inquest heard.
Paul Daniels, 36, had taken a photograph while cutting an enormous hedgerow at upmarket Hazel Grove golf club in Stockport, Greater Manchester, in November 2016.
The father of two was tasked with pruning 76 trees in just four days when it is thought his safety rope was not hooked up properly.
As he cut away the tip of the tree, the branches suddenly fell on top of Mr Daniels and dragged him up to 60 feet to the ground below.
The parent, nicknamed ‘Magic Man’ by friends, landed on his back and died as a result of multiple injuries.
At an inquest into his death, a jury heard how Mr Daniels was asked by his business partner to take pictures ‘before, during and after’ – a move which has been described as dangerous by police.
An expert told the coroner it would be ‘impossible’ to complete with just three members of staff.
At an inquest into Paul Daniels’ death, a jury heard how he was told to take photographs ‘during, before and after’ by his business partner Jessica Chandley. Above, Mr Daniels while working on separate projects
Only Mr Daniels, Miss Chandley and engineer Oliver Bancroft -then a trainee who worked on the ground helping aid communication between them – had been assigned to the project in November 2016.
A jury returned a verdict of accidental death but a coroner called for an investigation into better communication between climbers and colleagues based on the ground.
During the four day hearing at Stockport, Miss Chandley said: ‘The first day went really well. We did around 16 trees I think, which was a good start.
‘Initially we did discuss having a cherry picker, or elevated platform, to assist us, but it wouldn’t have been feasible because the ground was too uneven.
‘She said: Also because they just wanted the top part of the tree lopped off, we couldn’t get a cherry picker close enough due to the amount of branches.
‘The second day, we were a bit late starting because Paul’s van had been clamped. He was annoyed at first but he didn’t let this affect him and he did two trees whilst I was changing my chainsaw over.
Tree surgeon Paul Daniels, 36, plunged some 75ft to his death as he attempted to chop the top of conifers
She added: ‘I was working on cutting some smaller branches down when I heard a crash and then I heard Ollie shout “Oh my God, he just came out of the tree!”‘
Miss Chandley told the court she didn’t know what to do as she was in ‘such a state of shock’ but said she had carried out all the necessary risk assessments.
She said: ‘Paul was very particular about it. Conifers are usually safe.’
Mr Bancroft said: ‘Paul thew his tag line down and I caught it and attached the pull line to it then sent it back up to him. He climbed to the highest part of the tree, attached the pull line to the top of the tree and threw it out so that I could catch it. He climbed back into the conifer and I couldn’t see him at all because there was so much foliage.
Mr Daniels had expressed concern about not being paid enough for the job
‘I heard him shout ‘No Ollie, wait, don’t pull’. I didn’t pull but the rope went slack the tree started to fall. He came out of the tree and the tree fell too, he fell to the bottom and the tree landed on top of him. I only saw him when he got to the top of the tree, after that he was completely covered by the branches.
‘Paul was a brilliant tree surgeon and he loved his job. He took pride in being the best of the best.’
But Mr Daniels’ mother Donna told the Stockport hearing: ‘He loved his job but he didn’t like the company he was working for and he didn’t like the job they were on.
‘He didn’t feel they were getting enough money for it and the job was far too big. He said to me ‘It’s going to kill me with this job’. He said they were always making blunders. He really didn’t like working for them.
‘He couldn’t wait to get his own business set up and start out on his own. I took him to the golf club on the day he died. I gave him a big hug and a big kiss and told him not to worry about his job and I told him to be careful. I just wished that I could have watched him doing what he loved.’
Louise Owen, mother of Mr Daniels’ two children aged 13 and 15 told the inquest: ‘The last time I saw Paul was on November 18 when he came round to talk about going away for Christmas with myself and the children.
‘He did express some concern about money. He had got this new job and he felt they were being underpaid for the amount of work they had to do. He normally split the money on a 50/50 basis with Jessica but he wasn’t happy about the quote they’d given, he didn’t think it was enough.
‘He was saving up money to get his own business sorted. He loved trees and loved working on them. I wasn’t aware of any other problems he had. The last text I received from him was about giving some money for the children. He loved them so much.’
The inquest heard as Mr Daniels cut away the tip of the tree, the branches suddenly fell on top of him and pulled him to the ground below
The father-of-two had been hired for £2,500 to cut 76 trees at the Hazel Grove golf club in Stockport, and carried out the four-day job in a bid to save money to take his family away for Christmas
Peter Pollard an Arboricultural Officer at Stockport Council said: ‘Because conifers have so many branches, they can hit you in the face and can impact on where you are climbing. I would have cut the tops off in two bits, rather than do it as one big branch.
‘You wouldn’t usually attach a lifeline rope to the top the tree because that was what you will be felling. However, sometimes you may forget to unhook the lifeline from the top of the tee, and that’s how I suspect Paul got pulled down.
‘I personally wouldn’t have been able to do that job in four days, its a demanding job and wouldn’t have been possible to do it in that timeframe – although I don’t believe he made any error. I believe Paul was acting professionally.
Detective Inspector Roger Edwards who investigated the tragedy said: ‘I believe this to be an accident however we found pictures of Paul taking selfies up a tree and this is dangerous practice.
‘I understand Jessica Chandley wanted to take pictures before during and after the job, which I think was a dangerous practice to undertake. That picture of him stood on top of the tree with the other person, most likely to be Jessica, taking the picture, caused me some real concern.’
Supt Howard Millington added: ‘There was duty of care and this wasn’t breached. Regarding the photos, I believe this was just horseplay. There was no criminality or badness.’
Coroner Alison Mutch said: ‘This investigation gave rise to concern that risk of future deaths and action needs to be taken to eliminate any future risk of death.
‘The thing that concerns me is the communication between a groundsman and the aerial climbers and the ratio of grounds people to aerial climbers. This needs further investigation.’