Farmer sentenced after man killed and wife paralysed by cattle in Yorkshire

A farmer from West Yorkshire has been handed a suspended sentence after his cattle trampled a man to death and left his wife paralysed.

Michael Holmes and his wife Teresa had been walking their dogs in September 2020 when they entered a field containing cows and calves at Hollinghurst farm.

The couple were attacked and trampled by the cattle, with Mr Holmes suffering fatal injuries and dying at the scene in Netherton, Wakefield, on September 29.

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Farmer Martin Howard Mitchell has now been given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches.

Michael and Teresa HolmesMichael and Teresa Holmes
Michael and Teresa Holmes

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mitchell had failed to ensure that the risk to members of the public was controlled, including that, where possible, cows with calves were suitably segregated from the public footpath.

In a victim statement, Mrs Holmes said: “The course of my life, and my late husband’s, has been thrown into great turmoil as a result of the farmer’s negligence.”

Mrs Holmes suffered a spinal cord injury which left her paralysed from the waist down, and she is now reliant on a wheelchair.

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

"Having to cope with two traumas has been very difficult – losing Michael and suffering life changing injuries," said Mrs Holmes.

“This has transformed my life beyond anything I could ever imagine."

Martin Howard Mitchell of Netherton, Wakefield 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.

Cows are known to be protective of their calves.

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But the HSE argues landowners and farmers have a responsibility, where possible, to avoid putting cattle, and especially cows with calves, into fields with public access.

They must do all that they can to keep animals and people separated, the body outlines, with fencing for example, and all public access routes should be clearly signposted. Any animal that has shown any sign of aggression must not be kept in a field with public access.

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.

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“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.”