Farmer gets suspended jail sentence following cattle trample death

  • Health & Safety
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A West Yorkshire farmer has been fined and handed a suspended jail sentence after a cattle attack incident that resulted in a man trampled to death and his wife paralysed.

Husband and wife Michael and Teresa Holmes were walking on a public footpath near Hollinghurst Farm in Netherton, Wakefield on 29 September 2020. They entered a field containing cows and their calves, which had not been segregated from the footpath.

The cattle attacked and trampled the couple, inflicting fatal injuries on Mr Holmes, who died at the scene. Mrs Holmes sustained life-changing injuries that paralysed her from the waist down. Their two dogs, still attached to their leads, escaped the cattle and were later found by the Holmes’ neighbours.

In a victim personal statement, Mrs Holmes said:

“Having to cope with two traumas has been very difficult – losing Michael and suffering life changing injuries. I sustained a spinal cord injury which left me paralysed from the waist down.

“I now have to use a wheelchair. This has transformed my life beyond anything I could ever imagine. The course of my life, and my late husband’s, has been thrown into great turmoil as a result of the farmer’s negligence.”

Investigating the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Martin Howard Mitchell, owner of Hollinghurst Farm, had failed to ensure risks to the public were controlled. Cows with calves are known to be protective, unpredictable and aggressive, and Mr Mitchell had failed to avoid, where possible, keeping cattle in fields with public access.

HSE’s key considerations for farmers and landowners include:

  •   where possible avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with public access.
    do all that they can to keep animals and people separated, including erecting fencing (permanent or temporary) e.g. electric fencing.
  •   Assess the temperament of any cattle before putting them into a field with public access.
  • Any animal that has shown any sign of aggression must not be kept in a field with public access.
  •   Clearly sign post all public access routes across the farm. Display signage at all entrances to the field stating what is in the field (cows with calves / bulls).

Martin Howard Mitchell pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. In addition to his suspended sentence, he was also ordered to pay a fine and make a contribution towards costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Sally Gay said:

“Large animals can be a risk to people. Even a gentle knock from a cow can result in injury.

“Seemingly docile cattle can pose a risk to walkers when they are under stress or feel threatened, and can exhibit instinctive maternal or aggressive behaviour.

“This tragic incident could easily have been avoided if basic precautions had been taken by the farmer. Readily available HSE guidance states that, where possible, cows with calves should not be grazed in fields where there is a public right of way.

“Where this is not possible they should be segregated from the footpath by appropriate fencing where it is reasonable to do so.”

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