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Saturday, 28 March 2015

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South Cumbria farmer ‘ignored faults’ on fatal crush tractor

A FARMER knew about a defective handbrake on a tractor that crushed a worker to death but failed to do anything about the problem, a court has found.

Father Tom Phizacklea, 34, was found dead at Aurora Park Farm, in Scales, in July 2009 after being crushed between the front wheel of the tractor and a mound of earth.

In October last year farmer Stuart Webster, who owns the farm, pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching health and safety regulations by failing to keep the tractor in safe working order.

A hearing was held at Furness Magistrates’ Court yesterday to determine whether or not Webster, 49, knew about the problem with the handbrake.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found the most likely explanation for Mr Phizacklea’s death was that he left the tractor’s engine running while it was in neutral as he walked around the cab.

It found he had been crushed after the vehicle rolled forwards.

An inspection of the vehicle revealed 13 separate faults with the tractor, the court heard.

Yesterday, Webster told the court he had carried out a check on the vehicle in October 2008 and found the handbrake was operating normally.

In an interview after Mr Phizacklea’s death, Webster told police he had last driven the tractor two weeks earlier.

Mr Joseph Hart, defending, said an expert had inspected the tractor and in his opinion the problems with the handbrake would have been evident within two weeks of the accident.

This meant it was possible Webster may have been unaware of the problem, Mr Hart said.

However, the magistrates found Webster must have been aware of the problem, as he was a regular user of the tractor.

His version of events was “vague, non-committal and unconvincing”, said chairman of the bench, Mr Mervyn Cooper.

“Like many other defects on the tractor you chose to ignore it,” he said.

“This contributed to the tragic death of Tom Phizacklea.”

Webster’s case was adjourned until March 6, when he will be sentenced at Barrow Crown Court.

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