Farmer admits health and safety breach after teacher killed by cow in Northumberland

A primary school teacher was killed by a cow while out walking with her family during an Easter holiday.
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Marian Clode died three days after the animal charged then threw her over a fence when the family encountered a group of "breakaway" cattle as they walkedalong a public bridle path on April 3 2016.

The 61-year-old, who was born in Derry but lived in Greater Manchester, had been staying at Pine holiday cottage at Swinhoe Farm, near Belford, Northumberland, when she was killed.

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Newcastle Crown Court heard Mrs Clode, her husband, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren had been out walking along the bridleway at a time when cows and calves were being moved from winter sheds to summer pasture.

Newcastle Crown Court. Newcastle Crown Court.
Newcastle Crown Court.

Alistair Nixon, one of five partners at J M Nixon and Son, which runs Swinhoe Farm, was there with a quad bike and stick to guide the group of animals to a field, part way along the public bridleway.

Prosecutor Craig Hassall KC told the court while the herd was being moved, a "breakaway group" of around seven or eight cows and five or six calves got past Mr Nixon.

The court heard another farmhand was waiting at the open gate of the field where the cows were to be put to pasture, further along the bridleway.

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But, unbeknown to any of the farm staff, Mrs Clode and her family encountered the "breakaway" group of cattle, as they walked from the opposite direction.

Mr Hassall told the court Mrs Clode had been walking at the front of the family, followed by her son-in-law Kevin Rowe and her grandchildren, then her daughter Lucy Rowe and her husband Christopher Clode.

Mr Hassall said: "Kevin Rowe describes seeing a group of around 15 cattle, cows and calves. He saw them coming over the brow of the next hill, at speed.

"The children started screaming. He immediately lifted them over a barbed wire fence to his right and then climbed over himself.

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"He saw ahead of him that Mrs Clode had moved over to the right side of the bridleway, close to a wooden gate.

"Lucy Rowe also describes seeing 15 to 20 cattle coming down the hill towards them. She too tried to climb over the fence but her trousers snagged and her husband helped her.

"Christopher was some way behind the others. He too climbed over the fence.

"Kevin and Lucy both then saw a cow in front of the group turn ninety degrees to its left and towards Mrs Clode.

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"It charged at her two to three times and then tossed her over the wooden gate.

"Kevin Rowe made his way across the field, parallel to the bridleway, pushed through a hedge and found Mrs Clode, unresponsive and face down on the ground."

The court heard Mr Nixon arrived on the quadbike and helped with CPR attempts while they waited for the emergency services.

Mrs Clode was taken to hospital in Newcastle but died three days later as a result of her injuries.

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J M Nixon and Son admitted a Health and Safety at Work Act offence of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment were not exposed to risks from the movement of cattle.

Mr Hassall said the failure was that there was no "suitable or sufficient assessment of the risks" before the cows and calves were moved along the public bridle path.

He added that too much time had elapsed between the time when the bridleway was checked and the movement of the cattle.

Tom Gent, on behalf of J M Nixon and son, told the court the route for the cows had been made "as secure as possible" that day but changes have now been made in a bid to make the system safer.

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Mr Gent said the company has housed beef cattle, sheep and crops since 1939 and did not hold "aggressive" animals.

He added that Mr Nixon had once sold some cattle as their behaviour made him believe they would be unsafe to keep.

Mr Gent said cows can become "protective" when they are with their calves and can be eager to reach fresh pasture after being housed in sheds for the winter, as these animals had been.

Mr Gent told the court: "On behalf of the partnership, particularly on behalf of Mr Nixon, I apologise and express heartfelt sympathies to all those who knew Mrs Clode but most particularly her close family.

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"This incident may have happened more than seven years ago but happened very close to Mr Nixon's home. It is in an area that he travels daily.

"He is reminded of this tragedy every day and in my submission it is important to mark today the significant impact this has had on him, reliving the events in the aftermath he came across when he descended the hill on his quad bike to find the horror of what happened.

"It is no doubt something that will live with him forever and haunt both him and his family forever."

The farm will be sentenced later this week.