Tragic accident reminds landowners of their duty to the public, and walkers of the real dangers of casual walks in the countryside

Michael Porter (66), a retired university lecturer and father of two, was tragically trampled to death by a herd of some thirty beef cattle back in May 2013. The case brought against Brian Godwin (83), the farmer and landowner of the cattle at a 400-acre farm at Turleigh, Wiltshere, was heard by Swindon Crown Court with Judge Tim Mousley, QC, telling Mr Godwin: “I am satisfied that you quite blatantly failed to ensure the safety of the people that came on your land.”

Whilst delivering the sentence at the end of last year, the judge added “Simply the expedient of adding a fence would not have provided 100% safety but certainly would have reduced the risk. Mike Porter was a devoted family man. He knew the importance of his family and their loss is immeasurable.” Mr Porter had been walking with his brother who was also badly injured during the incident but survived.

Several witnesses gave accounts of previous incidents in 2004, 2008 and 2011 in which six people had been hurt on the farm, including one who was butted and stamped on by a charging cow causing serious injuries. Another man was hurt whilst trying to protect his dog after being charged by cattle.

There are various regulations in place which deal with the keeping of livestock in fields subject to public rights of way:

  • Bulls of certain breeds (Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) over the age of 10 months are banned by law from fields containing a public right of way.
  • For any other breed, bulls over 10 months must be accompanied by cows.
  • Any warning notices relating to a bull must be displayed clearly.
  • Horses may be kept loose in fields crossed by public rights of way, as long as they are not known to be dangerous.

Mr Godwin had, in fact, been ordered by the Health and Safety Executive to make changes at the farm after the previous incidents but had failed to take the necessary steps. He admitted failing to control his livestock and was given a 12 month suspended sentence and ordered to pay £30,000 costs.

The case highlights the importance of landowners’ responsibilities in signposting and safeguarding against potential dangers on their land. It also serves as a reminder to the public to be alert to one’s surroundings in the countryside.

A version of this article appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times, County Life, on 31st December 2016.

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