Felbrigg Hall is an English stately home administered by the National Trust (NT). The estate attached to the house includes the Great Wood, a forest of some 250,000 trees, many of them ancient. During the course of a school outing in 2007, a branch of a large beech tree, nearly two centuries old, fell ‘entirely without warning’ (as tree-branches tend to do) on four young boys, killing one and seriously injuring the others.

The parents of the boys sued the NT. Potentially damaging was a 1997 assessment by the NT’s head of forestry of safety risks associated with old trees, which the plaintiffs argued the NT had ignored. Mackay J concluded, after hearing expert evidence on old trees, that ‘judging the integrity of a tree is art not science’ and that, while the accident was ‘the cruellest coincidence’, the NT and its arborists had satisfied their duty of care in seeing that children using the Great Wood were reasonably safe to do so [Links are available here and here].