A smallholder has been jailed for “dreadful” safety breaches that led to a rider being dragged to her death by her long hair and loose clothing.
Neil Carpenter was working with 20-year-old Lauren Scott, a racecourse horse-catcher, when she was trapped in an unprotected drive shaft that was being used to power a 19th century milling machine on his farm in Dawlish, Devon.
Lauren suffered fatal injuries after she was pulled into the shaft being used to connect a tractor engine to the mill, which she was using to prepare feed for livestock.
Carpenter claimed he had no idea she was using the mill but the video shot minutes before her death showed him climbing on to the tractor and starting its engine.
Lauren was standing on a trailer loading grain into the top of the mill but either got down to check the machine or fell off and was dragged into the shaft.
The power-drive linking the tractor to the to mill, known as a PTO or power take off, should have been sealed inside a protective cover but was not. It would have cost just £75 to replace the cover and make it safe.
About two-thirds of the shaft was covered by a piece of old yellow plastic but it was cracked and the remaining third was completely unprotected.
This meant the metal drive, which was rotating at 540 rpm, was uncovered.
Carpenter told police and health and safety inspectors he had been working elsewhere on the farm and had no idea Lauren had rigged up the PTO and the mill until he heard a bang and found her seriously injured, at 1.17 pm on March 4 last year.
A video shot by Lauren of her feeding pigs at 12.49 pm showed him in the background, climbing on to the Red Case tractor and starting the engine which was connected to the PTO.
He claimed he banned anyone else from using the PTO and only did so himself when he had set up hurdles around it to keep people away.
Lauren, who loved animals and worked full time at Powderham Castle’s Secret Garden, died while working without pay on Carpenter’s 55-acre smallholding at Springfield Farm, Dawlish.
She had completed a two-year course in equine care at Bicton Agricultural College in East Devon and also worked as a horse catcher at Newton Abbot racecourse. Her ambition was to own a farm.
In a personal statement her mother Nicola said: “She has been cheated of her wonderful life.”
Carpenter, aged 45, of Firbank Road, Dawlish, denied but was convicted of manslaughter. He admitted two counts under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
He was jailed for four and a half years by Judge Mr Justice Dingemans at Exeter Crown Court, who said Carpenter had lied about the true circumstances of the accident because he had panicked and could not face up to his role in the death.
He said it was clear Carpenter had set up and started operating the PTO and mill and that Lauren had taken over “in her normal helpful way”.
The judge said Carpenter had “not processed” the risk posed by the broken PTO and that his decision not to spend £75 on a new cover was not motivated by cost-saving.
He told him: “I accept your remorse is genuine and that you attempted to assist Miss Scott after this dreadful entanglement.
“No sentence I pass will reflect the loss suffered, and which will continue to be suffered.”
The judge ordered that the broken PTO shaft should be used by safety experts to educate other farmers about the dangers of using faulty equipment.
Mr Ben Compton QC, defending, said Carpenter had tried to save Lauren at the time and has shown genuine remorse ever since.
He said he had never run the farm for profit and had helped thousands of members of the public by inviting them to open days or charity events, as well as running hog roasts for charities.
He had a full-time job, but still devoted 80 hours a week to the farm. He had been so busy he failed to appreciate his safety responsibilities.
Mr Compton said:“One cannot imagine what he went through and felt when he was trying to help the victim. I understand that the damage and loss to Lauren’s family has been immeasurable, but he has been broken by this experience.
“The dream of this farm is over, or at least it will never be the same after this tragedy. What he saw and witnessed will stay with him for the rest of his life.”
Warning to others
The police and Lauren’s family welcomed the verdict and sentence and said they hoped the case will act as a warning to other farmers.
Lauren’s family made the following statement at Exeter Crown Court following sentencing: “While no verdict will ever bring our sister back, we have placed our trust in the criminal justice system, and today, over one year and eight months since Lauren’s passing, we are finally able to grieve, safe in the knowledge that her death wasn’t through fault of her own, but due to a careless disregard for the simplest of health and safety measures.
“As was highlighted on numerous occasions throughout the trial, the presence of a £75 PTO cover would have ensured Lauren was still with us today.
“Let this ruling be a message to every person working within the agriculture industry. Your health and safety in the workplace matters, and you shouldn’t expect anything less than the highest regard for your welfare while at work.
“We would also like to extend our thanks to those working for and with us, from both Devon & Cornwall police and the crown prosecution legal team; without their diligent service and commitment to seeking justice for Lauren, today’s verdict would not have been possible.
“At only 20 years of age our sister has been taken from us far too soon, but our grief aside, today our thoughts are with Lauren herself. Lauren has been deprived of a long and prosperous life, deprived of raising a family of her own, and to experience all that life would have offered her.
“Lauren, although we won’t be able to share the future together with our growing family in physical form, your spirit, and memory is with us every day, and will be for ever more — Rest in peace.”
By Ted Davenport