Farmer spared jail after his cows trample Edinburgh man to death

A farmer who was repeatedly warned to control his cows has been spared jail after a retired university professor was trampled to death in his field.

Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 9:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:51 am


Brian Godwin, 83, had been previously ordered to offer more protection to dog walkers using the public footpaths that cross his 400-acre farm.

He had been told to put in segregating electric fencing or signs saying ‘’cows with calves’ after at least four serious attacks dating back to 2004.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But he failed to act and dad-of-two Mike Porter, 66, from Edinburgh, was stamped on and trampled by a herd as he walked across the land.

The rambler was walking along a public footpath through Elbow Field with his brother John and their two dogs.

Around 30 continental beef cows began repeatedly trampling on Michael who curled up in a ball to protect himself.

He was airlifted but died from internal bleeding following the attack in May 2013 near Godwin’s Timothy Rise Farm in Turleigh, near Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire.

His shaken brother sustained serious injuries and Godwin has now been handed a 12-month prison sentence - suspended for two years.

He admitted breaching his general duty of controlling his livestock at a previous hearing and was today sentenced at Swindon Crown Court.

The judge also said Godwin will have to pay £30,000 court costs.

Sentencing, Tim Mousley QC claimed if the farmer had taken “proper heed from the previous incidents” the death could have been avoided.

He said: “You could have prevented his untimely death.

“I’m satisfied that you quite blatantly failed to ensure the safety of people who came on your land.

“I’m quite satisfied that the way you managed your livestock created an obvious risk to people on public footpaths and a risk of serious injury.

“That was a risk that you failed to take reasonable steps to rectify and led to the terrible death of one man and serious injuries to another.

“There was an incident in 2004, two incidents in 2008 after which the health and safety executive required you to make some changes.

‘’Two further incidents in 2011 after which the health and safety executive required you to make further changes.

“It must have been clear at that stage, the warning signs were obvious. By May 2013 you were aware of all the previous incidents.

‘’You had made some improvements to farming practice.

“But what you did obviously was not enough. I’m satisfied you could have done more and you say you now realise that you could.

“Simply the expedient of installing a fence that would not have provided 100 per cent safety but certainly would have reduced the risk.

“Mike Porter by everyone’s account was a devoted family man. He knew the importance of his family and their loss is immeasurable.”

The family farmed beef cattle and raised them as ‘suckler cattle’ - where the livestock wean their own calves and have little human interaction.

There had been at least four previous incidents, in which six people suffered injuries needing hospital treatment going back to 2004.

Previous incidents at the farm include Alison Cane who was butted and stamped on by a charging cow and suffered serious injuries.

Prosecuting, Carl Harrison said Godwin accepts by the time of Mr Porter’s death he was aware of four incidents involving people being injured by “aggressive” cattle.

But defending, Dominic Kay told the court that Godwin had put into place a six-step strategy to deal with the issues that had been raised.

Those steps included moving the feeding tub, separating cows from very young calves in Elbow Field and carrying out daily checks on the cattle.

Mr Kay claims Godwin was never served a prohibition notice ordering him to erect an electric fence at a cost of £480 and warning signs were routinely ripped down.

He said: “This is not a case of willful blindness, it’s a case of Mr Godwin working out what he thinks is the correct thing to do and simply not going far enough.”

In a statement issued after the hearing, the family of tragic Michael Porter hopes lessons will be learned to help make the countryside safer for walkers.

Adrienne Sillar, who was Mike’s partner for 35 years and the mother of their two children, said: “Together with our family and friends, I have spent the last three and a half years trying to turn the tragedy of Mike’s death into a positive outcome.

“Mike’s death was avoidable, and while nothing will bring Mike back to us, we can at least take some comfort that lessons have been learned which will prevent others in the future being needlessly killed or injured.

“It is vital that the interests of farmers cannot take precedence over the health and safety of the public, and that those who, like Mike, love walking in the beautiful British countryside can do so without the risk of injury or death.

“We hope that those agencies with responsibility will now review the guidance relating to the management of livestock in the vicinity of public rights of way.”

Mike’s inquest heard that of the 57 animals on the farm at the time of Mr Porter’s death, 49 were continental breeds or cross-breeds.

Thirty-one had been there during three previous attacks, but there was no evidence about which cows in particular were involved.

Mr Porter’s brother told the inquest how the herd knocked them down repeatedly and seemed to “deliberately trample” on them “as if it was something they really wanted to do”.

They were both knocked to the ground on the public footpath when the herd got on their hind legs and stamped down on the elderly pair with their front legs.

Mr Porter managed to scramble out of the field but collapsed and died shortly afterwards after a hoof mark was found on his chest.

A jury concluded it was an accident.

Godwin was prosecuted by the Health And Safety Executive.