Yorkshire farmer, 70, cleared of threatening rider and ramming her horse with his Land Rover during row over her crossing his land

A Yorkshire farmer has been cleared of threatening a woman and injuring her horse during a row over her riding across his land.

Stephen William Harrison, 70, was also charged with criminal damage relating to the equine owned by Rebecca Hartland during the altercation near the village of Moulton, near Richmond, in September 2022.

Mr Harrison, a fourth-generation farmer, denied using abusive of threatening words or behaviour with intent to cause fear or provoke violence, and on Monday went on trial at York Magistrates Court.

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The court heard that Mrs Hartland, who runs a dog daycare business, and her friend Megan Kellett-Jones were using a footpath across Mr Harrison’s land when the farmer told them to go back the way they had come because his son Chris was sowing the field and he feared damage to the crop.

The incident happened in farmland near the village of Moulton, near RichmondThe incident happened in farmland near the village of Moulton, near Richmond
The incident happened in farmland near the village of Moulton, near Richmond

Both women were on horseback, and although it was accepted by the prosecution that under the Highway Code riders cannot use a public footpath, they said they had been forced to divert because a nearby bridleway was blocked.

Mrs Hartland claimed that Mr Harrison ‘slapped’ her horse Doris and pushed its head in an attempt to steer the animal away from him and turn it around, before he and his son got into their Land Rover and pursued her and Mrs Kellett-Jones back the way they had come, overtaking them, beeping the horn, revving the engine and even driving into the back legs of Doris.

The women alleged that the Land Rover, which was heavily laden with tools and weighed over three tonnes, collided with Doris two to three times at a speed of 8-9mph and over a distance of 300 metres.

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Mrs Hartland said she was left ‘hysterical’ by the encounter and called police from a neighbouring farm, but both Mr Harrison and his son, who was not charged but gave evidence as a witness, denied that they had followed the women in the vehicle and said they had simply stopped at the field entrance to inspect the gate once the riders had already left.

Mr Harrison, of High Grange Farm in Melsonby, claimed in his evidence that Mrs Hartland had continued to ride towards him ‘intentionally’ on the path, which was only around a metre wide, after he had gestured for them to stop and turn around, and that he only made contact with the horse’s head to stop it ‘running over’ him.

Despite the Hartland family being his neighbours and him sometimes passing their smallholding to reach part of his farm, Mr Harrison said he did not know them and did not recognise Rebecca as the horsewoman.

He denied grabbing her horse’s reins and said any movement with his hands was to try and protect himself.

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When asked by the prosecution if he had ever had ‘trouble’ with riders crossing his cultivated land before, Mr Harrison said he had not, and agreed it had been on a ‘point of principle’ that he had confronted the two women rather than stepping aside to let them pass with care.

It was alleged that Mrs Kellett-Jones’s horse Fifi had reared and bolted, but both Mr Harrison and son said this had not happened, nor had they ‘scared the living daylights’ out of Mrs Hartland by acting in a dangerous manner in the Land Rover.

The court was told that Mr Harrison kept three horses on the free-range chicken farm for his wife’s use, and was ‘experienced’ in handling equines himself.

His defence also called a retired vet, Dr Richard Phillips, who said he would expect a horse that had been repeatedly rammed from behind by a car to have suffered bruising, abrasions and possibly open wounds rather than the lameness reported by Mrs Hartland, who was not able to supply any photographic evidence of Doris’s injuries.

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After deliberating for more than an hour, magistrates found Mr Harrison not guilty on both counts, saying they were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he had committed the offences and adding that Mrs Hartland ‘may have had reason to exaggerate the incident’.

His legal representatives said: “Mr Harrison was trying to protect a newly drilled field of wheat from trespassing horses. We didn’t expect anything other than a not guilty verdict. The matter should never have come before court.”