Richmond tree surgeon died after branch fell on him

Charley Purkiss-McEndoo. Photo: Darlington Mowden Park.

A Richmond tree surgeon was killed in a freak accident when a 16st branch fell 30ft on top of him just as he stepped into its path.

Charley Purkiss-McEndoo, 27, who was a highly regarded amateur rugby union player, was working in woodland near Thirsk when he felled a large oak tree, stepping to the side as it fell into what is known as “the safety zone.”

But in an unforeseeable tragedy, the safety manoeuvre took him exactly into a falling branch from a neighbouring tree that had been hidden by spring foliage, an inquest heard.

Mr McEndoo – described as a “wonderful, humble person” and the “life and soul of his rugby team” – had sent a text to his mother wishing her a happy birthday minutes before the tragedy.

The hearing was told the prop forward – known as Cannonball to his Harrogate RUFC team-mates who played for Darlington Mowden Park before joining the Yorkshire club – had his organs donated following his death on May 23 this year.

He was found by fellow worker Kevin Lafon lying in Shutt Wood near Kirby Knowle in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park with the 20ft branch at his side.

Mr Lafon choked back tears as he described seeing his friend and colleague’s helmet was split in two by the force of the blow.

Health and Safety Inspector John Micklethwaite described the series of events which led to Mr Purkiss-McEndoo’s death in woodland owned by by farmer John Furness, a former High Sheriff of North Yorkshire.

He said the branch belonged to a tree 20ft away which had rotted at its socket and was being held in place by the tree he was was felling as part of a five year forestry clearance plan on the estate.

Although not properly attached to its tree the branch was not dead and still had leaves and shoots, making it impossible to spot from anyone looking up from the ground.

Mr Micklethwaite said: “This was a job properly set up and I am afraid my conclusion is that there was a hidden pitfall that even the most experienced people would not reasonably have been expected to have spotted.

“Given that the trees were in full leaf it may not have been apparent from the ground that this branch was being supported by the tree he was felling.

“He stepped to the side into what is known as the safety zone having started the tree falling. Unfortunately that put him directly into the path of the branch that fell.

“He could never have heard it and unless he had been looking straight up there was no chance he could have avoided it.”

Mr Lafon said he had gone to refuel his chainsaw and was returning to the tree he was working on, adding: “I heard Charley’s saw was ticking over somewhere and then I saw him and ran over.

“He was badly injured and there was one branch near him. His tree was down having been properly cut.”

Mr Lafon placed a blanket over his friend and raised the alarm but he died later the same day in James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

The night before Mr Purkiss-McEndoo had spent the evening in with his girlfriend of two years Hayley Burrows, celebrating her birthday and left at 6.30am “in a good mood and with no concerns.”

In a statement, his mother Catherine said her son had been to Northumbria University to study for a sports degree but left  to begin work in the same industry as his father Shaun, who owned a forestry and countryside management company.

A jury at the inquest in Skipton found that he died an accidental death whilst following “correct safety procedures with correct safety equipment.”

On his death, Dave Doherty, director of rugby at Northern Premier League Harrogate, said:”Charley was a wonderful, humble person. There are no words to describe this tragedy,”

“He will be missed terribly by all. He was the heart and soul of our team and you just cannot replace characters like him.

“Charley was honest, courageous and passionate both on and off the pitch. He stood for all of the values we have as a club and was fundamental to so much of what we did out on the field of play.”