When the steaks are high – dealing with rights of way
15 January 2024
“It’ll never happen to me”, “it’s boring” and “what could really go wrong”, are sayings we often hear in our team. Complacency towards health and safety in your business can have disastrous consequences not only for those individuals hurt or killed but for your business’ reputation and trading.
We have looked at two recent Court cases to see what can go wrong when adequate safety precautions have not been considered.
John Hallett of Ottery St Mary, Devon
On 24 November 2023, John Hallett of Ottery St Mary, Devon pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 following an attack by a herd of cows on Patrick Atherton, and his dog ‘Lad’.
Mr Atherton recalled that on 12 June 2022, having been dropped off to walk his dog on the public footpath, he kept his dog, Lad, on his lead having noticed cows and calves in the field. Mr Atherton hoped that with Lad closely by his side, the cows would not pay them any attention. Unfortunately, that was not the case and a cow charged at Mr Atherton and Lad. As Mr Atherton could not release Lad from his lead, Lad was repeatedly kicked and stamped on. In the end, Mr Atherton believed around seven cows were involved in the incident.
Mr Atherton’s dog required medication for the rest of his life until he passed away in September 2023. Whilst Mr Atherton only suffered bruising and cuts, the outcome could have been fatal.
Mr Hallett was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court for, in summary, failing to ensure that those affected by his farming practice were not exposed to health or safety risks.
M Nixon & Son, Swinhoe Farm
On 15 December 2023, Newcastle Crown Court fined M Nixon & Son, Swinhoe Farm, Belford, Northumberland the sum of £72,500 and ordered them to pay £34,700 in costs following the death of Marian Clode in April 2016.
Ms Clode and her family were on a family walk on 3 April 2016 when they unexpectedly came face to face with a herd of cows, some with calves, along a popular bridlepath. No signage had been erected warning the public of the cows’ presence.
At the time Ms Clode and her family were walking, farm workers were moving the herd of cows from the rear. Due to this, neither party knew of the others presence until it was too late.
Whilst Ms Clode’s family were able to take refuge behind a fence, Ms Clode was butted by a cow at the front of the herd several times. Ms Clode died from her injuries three days later.
What should you do?
Cattle are known to be protective of their calves. A failure to take the right precautions could have disastrous consequences for both those involved and those accountable. As such, the Health and Safety Executive have issued advice to farmers as follows:
- 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.
- Consider culling any animal that shows signs of aggression.
- 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).
The Birketts view
Our Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team advise that a risk assessment should be completed before placing livestock in a field containing a public right of way. This should consider all control measures which should, and could, be taken to minimise the risk of harm to the public.
Where possible, livestock should be kept out of the public’s way to minimise any chance of injury or incident. Where this proves unworkable, sufficient signage may be erected to warn the public of those animals.
Our team can advise on creating and implementing risk assessments, and on addressing measures or controls to mitigate risks. In the event an accident occurs on your land, our team are skilled and equipped to advise and represent you during subsequent investigations and proceedings which may follow.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2024.