THE FAMILY of a 13-year-old girl killed when a branch fell from a tree onto her head has been awarded compensation from Yaxley Parish Council.

Sophie Howard was killed on June 30 last year when the falling black poplar branch struck her on her head while she was sitting in Middletons Road recreation ground, in Yaxley, with friends from Sawtry Community College.

Investigations found that Yaxley Parish Council had not ensured risk assessments were carried out by qualified inspectors on the trees, or the position of the bench.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found nearly 30 trees in the ground were found to need immediate removal or treatment.

Her parents Laura and Martin and twin brother Elliott, of Abbots Way, Yaxley, have called for councils across the country to inspect trees to avoid a similar tragedy.

They said: "The last 16 months have been horrendous as we've struggled to come to terms with the fact Sophie is no longer with us.

"She was a beautiful girl with her whole life ahead of her but this has been taken from her and it is heartbreaking. Her loss to us is immeasurable, and our grief endless.

"At first it seemed a tragic case of fate or wrong time, wrong place, sadly after the Coroner's inquest it became apparent that this was not the case.

"We were horrified when we heard the HSE's report found that Yaxley Parish Council was not following the health and safety guidelines for risk assessments and maintenance in public places and that almost 30 other trees were in a hazardous condition.

"We just hope councils across the country take note and learn from the mistakes that led to Sophie's death. Nothing can bring her back, and no amount of money could ever make up for what happened, but we want to be sure no one else suffers such a huge loss as we have."

Katrina Elsey, from Irwin Mitchell which secured the undisclosed out-of-court settlement for the family, added: "This case highlights how important health and safety checks in public places are to protect people from serious and tragic consequences. Sophie's parents are still struggling to come to terms with the fact that their daughter would still be here today if these checks had been carried out."

Last December David Morris, south and west Cambridgeshire coroner, recorded a narrative verdict on Sophie's death.