Alleged 'Dangerous Trailer Brakes' road death hearing - Live report

The trial of a Cambridgeshire company charged over the death of a 19-year-old employee who was killed in a tractor crash on a road in 2014 is now under way.

In what is thought to be a first for an agricultural case, the proceeding are being reported live online in detail, with an excellent 'blow-by-blow' account being posted from the Court by Cambridge News reporters.

This case was highlighted at the IOSH/RIG - Farm Safety Partnership's 'Safe Farm Transport and Deliveries' event, held at Askham Bryan in November See RIG Past Events page, and is one that all RIG Members (plus EVERY Farmer and trailer manufacturer!) should be following, as it has significant implications for the industry.

It is also thought to be the first prosecution brought by HSE rather than the Police for what would traditionally be considered a road traffic incident involving a farm vehicle.

GW Topham and Son, an agriculture and haulage firm from St Neots, deny two charges:

  • Failing to ensure the health and safety at work of all of their employees, by failing to maintain road equipment, and
  • Not maintaining the trailer to a "sufficient standard" and keeping it in "good repair".

On the first day of the trial (February 5), witnesses told the Court how the driver appeared to lose control of his tractor towing a loaded grain trailer as it travelled down a hill, before it "ploughed" into the bridge abutment under the A1 at Alconbury, on August 1, 2014. The young student driver was trapped and seriously injured in the severely damaged tractor cab and died later in hospital.

The technical evidence has also now been heard and the Judge has advised the Jury that this will be a "slightly longer trial" than expected. The Court has sat all this week and will reconvene next Thursday and Friday (15-16 Feb). He anticipates the jury will retire at some point in the third week (Feb 19-23).

Some interesting points have emerged, which are now to be summarised and agreed by both sides, before the Court reconvenes. So far:

  • The Police and experts have stated that the trailer was in a "dangerous" condition and not legally fit to be on the road.
  • There has been some interesting conflicting views presented by Expert Witnesses.
  • The defence's expert witness said the manual for the trailer did not contain enough information for the brakes to be properly maintained.
  • The Farm Manager advised the Court that it was employees responsibility to maintain their trailers.

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