Farmer sentenced after serious cattle attack

A West Yorkshire farmer whose cattle trampled a man to death and left his wife paralysed has pleaded guilty to health and safety failings. 

West Yorkshire farmer, Martin Mitchell, whose cattle trampled man to death and left wife paralysed pleaded guilty to safety failings. 
Stock photo.

Martin Howard Mitchell was given a six-month custodial sentence that was suspended for 12 months following the incident on a farm in Netherton, Wakefield. 

Michael Holmes, 57, had been walking on a public footpath with his wife Teresa and their dogs on 29th September 2020 when they entered a field containing cows and calves on Hollinghurst Farm. 

The Health and Safety Executive ruled that the farmer had made no attempts to segregate the cows and calves from the footpath, and the couple were attacked and trampled by the cattle.

Horrific accident

Mr Holmes, who was a dad-of-two, suffered 35 rib fractures, and his heart was lacerated after the cows attacked him.  

The man died at the scene while his wife sustained life-changing injuries that have left her confined to a wheelchair as well as requiring extensive rehabilitation therapy and major adaptations to her home, HSE said. 

Their two dogs, still attached to their leads, had managed to escape and were later found by one of the couple’s neighbours. 

Dangers for dog walkers and farmers

A spokesperson for HSE said that Mrs and Mr Holmes story “shone a light on the dangers of cattle for dog walkers and farmers alike”. 

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.”

Michael Holmes was killed while his wife Teresa was left paralysed, photo by HSE.

Guilty plea 

An investigation by the HSE found that Mr Mitchell had failed to ensure that the risks to members of the public were controlled, including that, where possible, cows with calves were suitably segregated from the public footpath. 

The farmer from Netherton 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. 

HSE has issued key considerations for farmers and landowners: 

  • Where possible avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with public access. 
  • 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). 

Even docile cattle can pose a risk 

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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