Inquest finds Richmond School deputy head Dave Clark died after being charged by single enraged cow while jogging with his dogs

A much-loved deputy headteacher died after he was charged by a single cow while jogging with his dogs through farmland near Richmond, an inquest has heard.

Dave Clark taught at Richmond School
Dave Clark taught at Richmond School

David Stevenson Clark, 59, who had taught PE at Richmond School since 1997, survived an initial attack by around 20 cows with calves who surrounded him near a public footpath before a single animal returned after the rest of the herd had moved away and struck him in the chest.

A farming couple who drove to the field near Richmond's old racecourse to rescue Mr Clark, a former Scotland Under 21 rugby player, found him conscious and sitting up despite having been flung into the air by the cow, but his condition deteriorated and he collapsed and died while being treated by a mountain rescue volunteer. A postmortem later established that all of his ribs had been fractured and that severe chest haemorrhaging had been fatal.

The death of Mr Clark, a rugby coach and Richmond Cycling Club member, shocked the market town where he lived with his wife Jane and had raised his daughters Helen and Hannah and son Calum, a former professional rugby player for Saracens and England who confirmed his retirement from the sport this month.

Mr Clark was a keen cyclo-cross competitor

A jury inquest into the tragedy was held at Pavilions of Harrogate on Tuesday and attended by his family as well as his brother James and sister Anne.

Witness Rachel Taylor, who lives at Low Coalsgarth Farm, spotted Mr Clark enter the field from a vantage point in her garden and observed that his dogs were not on leads and 'wandering' near the cattle, whom she said were normally docile and used to the presence of walkers. She then heard the cows 'bellowing' in distress and noticed that they had formed a circle around Mr Clark while the dogs ran around the 'wall' of livestock.

She and her husband immediately drove to the scene and parked their pick-up between the herd and the injured teacher, who told them he was unable to stand up. After putting Mr Clark's spaniel, which was running around the cows' legs, into the vehicle, the herd lost interest and left the group alone.

Mrs Taylor initially believed that Mr Clark had only suffered shock, grazing and possibly a leg injury, so called a neighbour and first aider, Zetland Estate gamekeeper Tim Rothwell, as well as dialling 999. The Great North Air Ambulance overflew the scene twice before landing and while Mr Rothwell was attending to Mr Clark, he lost consciousness and CPR was begun.

The cattle were owned by David Turnbull of Whashton Springs Farm

Mr Rothwell, who said he regularly worked in the Coalsgarth Valley and had not known the cattle to ever be aggressive, retrieved the second dog, a whippet, as he arrived at the scene, where he recognised Mr Clark, who had taught his children at Richmond School. He said that one of the dogs was trailing a short lead from its collar.

The cattle are owned by beef farmer David Turnbull of Whashton Springs Farm, though the incident took place on his neighbouring property, Low Gingerfields Farm.

Mr Turnbull told a police officer at the time that he 'dreaded' such a fatality and that cows would 'always go for dogs' if they felt threatened by them.

Giving evidence to the inquest, he confirmed that 28 Belgian blue suckler cows were in the field on the day, all of whom had been at the farm for seven years and had never shown signs of aggression. There were NFU and North Yorkshire County Council signs by the gateway which advised walkers that dogs could scare farm animals and should be kept on a lead, unless chased by cattle in which case they should be released.

Mr Turnbull said: "The risk of dogs is a worry for every farmer. If dogs are running free they can upset the cows, who will protect their calves. In lockdown the number of people walking across my land increased by around three times."

He added that he took precautions such as not keeping new animals in fields with footpaths running through them, erecting signage and clearly marking paths. Feeding stations were kept as far away from the path as possible.

Since Mr Clark's death, the Turnbull family have made 'drastic' changes to their business, having moved all of their cattle away from fields crossed by paths and reduced their herd accordingly. More fencing has been erected and Mr Turnbull estimated that these actions had cost him around £30,000, with an expected £25,000 reduction in income in future years due to the thinning of the beef operation.

He said he was aware of an incident in 2016 in which a male dog walker claimed to have been charged by cattle on land nearby, but said the section of path identified in a Health and Safety Executive report was not in a field where he had ever kept cattle. He also said that the family had never received a warning letter from North Yorkshire County Council which the authority said they had sent. There was no contact from police at the time.

HSE inspector John Micklethwaite confirmed that the cattle had been identified as belonging to Mr Turnbull's family after the 2016 incident, but that details about this attack were 'vague' and unclear, though police had attended the scene and the walker had been treated in hospital.

He said that the HSE regularly investigated cattle trampling fatalities and that most involved dogs, adding: "Suckler herds are semi-wild - they are less involved with the farm and they have a deep-seated reaction to dogs. The advice is to drop the dog's lead and to let it distract the cattle while you reach safety yourself, but for many people the love for the animal colours their judgement and they try to protect it."

He confirmed that it was difficult to divert a public right of way and that walkers had the legal right to ignore a marked diversion off a path if they chose.

The jury returned a conclusion of accidental death.

The inquest took place a day after a hearing into the death of David Tinniswood, 82, who was killed in a cattle trampling incident in the Yorkshire Dales National Park three months before Mr Clark's death.

Tribute to Dave Clark from Richmond School

"Dave Clark was the 'heart and soul' of Richmond School. He was an enormous character, a brilliant school leader and simply a lovely man who enriched the life of everyone he came into contact with, just by being himself and doing what he did every day.

"Dave was appointed to Richmond School in 1997 as Head of Key Stages 3 and 4 and teacher of PE. He was highly regarded by everyone he taught and families appreciated his firm but fair manner and the very high standards he expected of every student in the school.

"He was promoted to the role of Deputy Headteacher in 2003 and revelled in the challenges the post presented. Dave was always the person we looked to to deal with difficult issues and he was a master at that. He never let students get away with being anything other than their very best, never giving up on them, even when at times it felt as though they wanted to give up on themselves. All of this, Dave did with a smile and a level of kindness and care that is seldom seen.

"Outside school, Dave was a keen sportsman. He had grown to love the Dales and would often be seen cycling, walking and spending time on the moor during the beating season.

"Our students and their parents have been lucky to have known and been helped by him. We have been privileged as a staff to have worked with him and will continue working in the same way in his memory.

"Above all, Dave was a family man. Our thoughts are with Dave's wife, his children and wider family at this difficult time."