Farming Business Fined After a Walker Dies in Cattle Incident

A farming enterprise has received a fine following the death of a member of the public who was repeatedly butted by a cow in the presence of two observing grandchildren.

Marian Clode, aged 61, was partaking in a family walk on 3rd April 2016 when the incident occurred on a public bridleway in Northumberland. She succumbed to her injuries in hospital three days later.

The family had been residing at a cottage at Swinhoe Farm, Belford, and expressed that Marian “was dearly loved and still so sadly missed.”

An investigation conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that, despite it being close to the conclusion of the Easter holidays, the business opted to relocate around 16 cows, along with a similar number of calves, along a popular bridlepath—a route frequented by visitors to St Cuthbert’s Cave. Adequate precautions were not in place to alert walkers to the approaching herd, such as signage and lookouts.

Simultaneously, as the cows traversed the bridlepath (approximately 1km in length), Marian and her family, who were residing at a cottage on the farm, were walking in the opposite direction from St Cuthbert’s Cave. The farm workers involved in moving the cows were unaware of the approaching family, as they were positioned at the rear of the herd.

The undulating nature of the bridlepath meant that neither the farm workers nor the walkers were aware of each other until it was too late. The family first noticed the oncoming cattle as the herd appeared over the brow of a hill, mere seconds before they would come face to face.

Most of the family, including two young grandchildren, climbed over the barbed wire fence for cover. However, their grandmother, Marian Clode, who was leading the group, was confronted by a cow at the front of the herd. The cow butted her several times, resulting in fatal injuries.

The company failed to implement a safe system of work, displaying a lack of awareness of the risk posed to pedestrians or cyclists encountering cattle on the bridleway.

The HSE offers advice and guidance for farmers, landowners, and other livestock keepers.

J M Nixon & Son, Swinhoe Farm, Belford, Northumberland pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at Newcastle Crown Court. They were fined £72,500 and ordered to pay £34,700 in costs on 15th December.

In a family statement, it was expressed: “In the seconds we had to react, Marian, who was a little ahead, had the least time, but still managed to move to the side of the track and make herself as inconspicuous as possible, tucked against a wooden gate, beneath an overhanging tree. Despite this, Marian was attacked by the lead cow and suffered fatal injuries.

“In the immediate aftermath of the incident and in the months and now years which have passed, we believed Marian lost her life because of JM Nixon and Son’s failure to implement even the most basic safe systems of work.

“Marian’s death was completely avoidable, which makes coming to terms with our loss even more difficult. We are grateful to the HSE for successfully prosecuting this case, which after almost eight years brings us some closure, although Marian is never far from our thoughts. She was dearly loved and still so sadly missed.”

Following the hearing, HSE inspector Jonathan Wills remarked, “This horrific tragedy during a family holiday could have been prevented. Had the company carefully planned the movement of cattle from their winter housing along a popular route used by walkers and cyclists and put sensible, inexpensive measures in place this incident would not have happened.

“Public knowledge – and concern – is increasing about how dangerous cattle can be. Farmers should not place cattle with calves in fields where members of the public have a legal right to walk. HSE will take action when legal duties are not followed.”

The HSE prosecution was led by enforcement lawyer Radha Vaithianathar and assisted by paralegal officer, Rebecca Forman.