Mother and son injured as branches crash down in Belsize Park

A MAN and his elderly mother were lucky to escape with their lives after a large branch from a 60-year-old Belsize chestnut tree crashed to the ground in high winds.

Raphael Friedman and Linda Gilardoni were struck by the branch after stopping to look at the damage caused by another branch which had fallen from the same tree minutes earlier.

The pair have criticised Camden Council – saying the tree should have been chopped back months ago.

They also suggest that police should take some responsibility for failing to put a cordon around the obviously dangerous tree.

Mr Friedman suffered serious back wounds and now has pain in his hip. His mother, who is in her late 60s, was left badly shaken and sustained a bad cut to her knee. She is also covered in scratches.

He said: “All I remember is hearing a crunch. I looked up and saw a crack where the branch meets the trunk. The next thing I remember is a huge whack. At first I was worried that I could have been speared by the branch but luckily I escaped with a large cut and grazes down my back.

“My first thought was that my mother had been hit or even killed. Thank goodness it wasn’t actually worse. I can’t believe the luck really, for both of us.

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“If my mother had taken the blow she might not have survived. It is ridiculous just how big those trees have been left to grow. I am really angry with the local authority. If the council had cut back those branches to seven or eight foot, rather than 40ft or whatever they are, this would never have happened. From now on I will walk on the other side of the road where there are no trees.”

His mother added: “The first half of the tree had already fallen. and the police were there. We were passing and stayed to have a look at what was happening.

“Then suddenly this branch on the other side fell on to us. We were rushed in an ambulance straight to the Royal Free. The police were very helpful but they should have cordoned off the area so that this could not happen.”

In a response to concerned councillors, Camden’s arboricultural manager Alistair Smith said: “I carried out a visual inspection of all the other trees up to Belsize Avenue and all appeared to be healthy. But I will organise a more detailed visual inspection directly.”

The remaining trunk will be removed in the near future and the council intends to replace the tree this winter, he said.

A Camden Council spokesman described the incident as a ‘‘freak accident’’ and said: “The damaged tree showed no signs of decay. We have a thorough and robust inspection and maintenance programme for all our street trees. We wish those caught by the falling branch a quick recovery.”

Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland, who witnessed the incident, said: “It was shocking to see such a beautiful 60-year-old chestnut tree, in full bloom, fall victim to the high winds on Sunday.”

This weekend, branches from trees across Camden have been crashing down, causing havoc, blocking roads and in some cases, narrowly missing passers-by.

A large branch from a tree on Heath Street in Hampstead was blown down at about 9.30am on Monday, just missing an unsuspecting pedestrian.

Monday’s high winds also felled a tree at about 10am alongside the Regent’s Canal. The tree blocked the canal and the towpath near to the Danbury Street entrance – causing frustration for the hundreds of cyclists and walkers enjoying the bank holiday sunshine.

Meanwhile, a large tree in Southwood Lane in Highgate was completely toppled, blocking an entire road and blocking traffic as residents looked on.