Young shepherdess crushed to death by overloaded quad bike 

A 22-year-old shepherdess was crushed to death when her quad bike – overloaded with weed killer – toppled over while she worked on farmland in the Cotswolds, an inquest heard.

Laura Simmons was found on Spoonley Farm in Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, after the 350kg bike overturned on rough terrain and broke her neck.

Laura Simmons was found on Spoonley Farm in Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, by a jogger on Friday 2nd June 2023, after the 350kg bike overturned on rough terrain and broke her neck.

Gloucestershire Coroner’s Court heard that the young woman was believed to be riding the bike one-handed while spraying herbicide on plants along a perimeter electric fence. An examination of the bike found the front rack of the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) was overloaded with a tank containing the weed-killing chemical.

That day, Laura had been tasked with spraying weed killer, namely herbicide, along 20 kilometres of perimeter electric fences. Her mother, Karen Simmons, had travelled down from her home on Shetland to holiday with Laura – spending an hour with her before she went to work on the day of her death.

Delicate, slow job

Emily O’Neil, a HSE inspector, quoted by media, told the inquest that the use of a quad bike and lance to spray weed killer is not recommended, and they advise against it. Ms Simmons was also not wearing a helmet at the time, but Detective Sergeant Jonathan Williams, of Gloucestershire Constabulary, believed a helmet would not have prevented her death in this case.

Her employer, farmer Toby Baxter, of Chedworth, said that spraying weed killer between the electric fence posts on a quad bike was “quite a delicate, slow job” and it was undertaken at “walking pace”.

He added: “Laura was a very careful operator. It was just a combination of unfortunate circumstances; the ground was uneven but not unduly uneven. It’s such a mundane place, it’s not somewhere you’d go to and think ‘that’s a stupid place to go on a quad bike’.

“She wasn’t doing anything wrong… she was basically going along probably listening to music, not totally paying attention, we all do that when we’re driving. This is a tragic accident, it’s affected everyone.”

Adventurous, bold and determined

Media report that Laura’s mother said her daughter was brought up on a sheep farm and was driving quads from an early age. She added: “Laura was a careful quad driver. She was a very caring person, gentle, kind and humorous with a beautiful smile. Laura was also adventurous, bold and determined.

“I went to visit her for a holiday and met her for about one hour the day she died, little did I know that she would never return from her work. It has been life-changing for my family to lose our dear Laura and she will be forever in our hearts.”

The jury returned a unanimous decision of accidental death.

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