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'Safe' tree crushes motorist in Abbey Road

PUBLISHED: 11:45 08 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 07 September 2010

Josie Hinton & Rowan Larsen A TREE crashed on top of a taxi and nearly killed the driver after council safety inspectors had given the ageing black poplar the all-clear. Abdul Rashid, 53, was parked outside Hodgetts chemist in Abbey Road, St John s Wood,

Josie Hinton & Rowan Larsen

A TREE crashed on top of a taxi and nearly killed the driver after council safety inspectors had given the ageing black poplar the all-clear.

Abdul Rashid, 53, was parked outside Hodgetts chemist in Abbey Road, St John's Wood, when the tree fell across the road and crushed his car with him inside.

The catastrophe happened at 1.25pm last Friday, less than one year after the council ruled it posed no safety threat.

The unconscious man was cut out of the car by firefighters before being rushed to the Royal Free Hospital in a serious condition. Two women who were drinking coffee outside the Fern House cafe also suffered minor injuries after being struck by branches.

Now residents and traders have raised concerns over why the tree had not been removed before.

"There has been a lot of concern for at least two or three years as it was bent over at an angle, leaning into the road," said Mohammed Ejaz Khaliz, who runs the Food Link convenience shop in Abbey Road.

"It was a very old tree, more than 100 years old, so I understand people would want to preserve it. But you can't risk people's lives."

A man who works next door in Mario Samour's hair salon narrowly missed the falling tree.

"I always thought it was a bit dodgy as it was bent in the middle and leaning down too much." he said.

"I was standing outside. I heard a terrible sound and then it slowly fell. It just missed me, but people next door drinking coffee got crushed by the branches."

Environment bosses confirmed they performed an inspection of the tree in August last year but did not consider it a safety risk. The inspection followed a complaint from a resident of Easham House. The council pruned it in September but had no plans to remove it. An investigation has now been launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Paul Akers, arboricultural manager for Westminster, said: "We are working with the HSE to investigate what caused the tree to fall."

He added the council inspects each of its 8,000 trees every three years.

Meanwhile, local people are still getting over their shock following the incident.

Trainee chef Gilad Roth, who was at work in the nearby Poem bar in Boundary Road said: "I was in the kitchen, when suddenly I saw an explosion of leaves," he said.

"I ran out and helped two women who were outside when the tree fell on them. They were in shock as I helped them from under the branches."

A woman working in Hodgett's pharmacy said staff had often suspected the tree could fall.

"It was very old and neglected," she said. "We have often wondered what would happen if it fell, and now we know."

Mr Rashid is said to be recovering at home. A spokesman for his West Hampstead minicab firm said he was not expected back to work.


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