Dog ‘probable’ cause of farmer’s death

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A LEADING Buchan farmer was killed in a “freak” accident after his dog pushed a lever in his tractor, a court has heard.

Show judge and cattle breeder Harry Emslie was killed when his tractor lurched forward, crushing him, at his farm near Clola in 2008.

Mr Emslie’s daughter and son in law found the 67-year-old at 9.30am on June 9, after they arrived at the farm for a pre-planned business meeting.

Mr Emslie’s pet collie was sitting in the cab of the red Manitou tractor.

A fatal accident inquiry heard that the most likely explanation for the accident was that the farmer’s dog had triggered a squash plate - or lever - in the tractor’s cab while Mr Emslie worked in front of it. The farmer died from chest, abdominal and pelvic injuries after his tractor lurched forward, crushing him against a large shed.

It is thought that the farmer had been using the farm vehicle to collect animal feed and had got out of the cab to collect the rest by hand.

Giving evidence at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Monday, Grampian Police Sergeant Colin Houston, who was serving with the CID at the time, said that he had attended Brae of Coynach Farm at around 11am on June 9 and found Mr Emslie pinned against the shed.

He said: “We attended a large farm on the outskirts of Mintlaw at around 11am on June 9 where we found Mr Emslie pinned to the wall of a shed by the bucket of a tractor. The vehicle’s handbrake was off and the key in the ignition. There appeared to be some fluid spilled on to the ground.”

Harris Cooper, a former Health and Safety Inspector who attended the farm the same morning, said that the tractor had been “under stress” because it was not designed for prolonged pressure, causing it to leak diesel.

The farm vehicle eventually stopped when its battery had drained.

Mr Cooper said that the farmer’s work practices had been “extremely unsafe” for the task that he was carrying out and that the accident could have been avoided if the vehicle’s handbrake had been secured.

He said the accident could also have been avoided had the dog not been shut into the vehicle’s cab.

He said: “The squash plate lever simply required a positive action, and not a complex action, to put it into the forward position. It is probable that the dog leapt up within the cab and set it in motion.”

The inquiry also heard that seat sensors, which allowed the tractor to move forward only with weight on the driving seat, had been added to the design of the vehicle shortly after Mr Emslie purchased the tractor in 2005.

Representing the Emslie family, solicitor David Gibb said: “Harry Emslie was well used to lone working and it was not unusual for him to be working on the farm in the evenings. He worked all his life and his life was his work. The fact that there may have been some oversights on the part of the deceased, and that the deceased’s dog seems to have been in the cab, is of no solace to the family.”

He said that circumstances had been “freakish and tragic” and that Mr Emslie’s family did not object to any of the evidence that was heard by the court.

The inquiry was adjourned until January for Sheriff Summers to make a full determination.