29th September 2016
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Inquiry concludes into death of West Side crofter

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An inquiry has concluded into the death of a West Side woman who was crushed by a cow last March.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard that Patricia Wishart had entered the pen of the heavily pregnant animal at her croft near Bixter which “attacked” and knocked her over one of the cross bars of its pen before falling on her.

Her husband Robert frantically beat the animal off her and hauled her to safety, but after initially telling him she was alright, Mrs Wishart, 62, passed out and went limp. Mr Wishart started CPR and Mrs Wishart briefly came round, again saying she was OK, before falling unconscious again.

The Wisharts’ two grandchildren had entered the byre by this time and Mr Wishart told them to go to the pick up truck before calling Bixter doctor Caroline Hinton who was the first medic to arrive, finding Mrs Wishart to be dead and Mr Wishart in great distress.

Bixter doctor Caroline Hinton who was the first medic to arrive, finding Mrs Wishart to be dead and Mr Wishart in great distress.

Mr Wishart had also called his daughter Yvonne and her husband Simon, who are the parents of his grandchildren, to come home immediately from work.

The inquiry heard from Health and Safety Executive inspector Cristopher Copeman who inspected the byre some days after the 6th March accident. He said there were a number of contributory factors.

He said that the penning arrangements at the croft, while pretty standard for a small farm, were not what the HSE would recommend. The scaffolding bars were too widely spaced at the front of the pen, allowing the cow to get not just its head, but legs and body through the gap.

The scaffolding bars were too widely spaced at the front of the pen, allowing the cow to get not just its head, but legs and body through the gap.

The animal’s chain tether was also too long, giving it too much scope for movement, and the pen arrangement meant that the enclosure had to be entered at the cow’s head end, something that was likely to startle the animal and make it defensive, especially if it was pregnant.

Mr Copeman said that the HSE recommended a race and crush system for the safe confinement of cows that were to be approached. He said that this was a “reasonable” investment for a farmer but something that could be replicated more simply if felt to be too expensive.

Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said that the Wisharts had been successfully crofting for 40 years and was reluctant even to ascribe “complacency” as a factor in the tragedy. Crofting and farming were inherently dangerous occupations and what had happened was “a human tragedy” that had occurred in “horrific circumstances”.

He said that the accident would serve to highlight an NFU campaign being run this week to highlight the dangers of the agriculture industry.

In suggesting an appropriate finding, the fiscal said that Mrs Wishart, in the course of her self-employment at East Town, Houlland, had died as a result of chest and abdominal injuries that occurred when she went to check on a pregnant cow in the byre.

The “ad hoc” construction of the pen meant that while the tethered cow could not get entirely out of its enclosure it could move forward through its railings. Its construction also led a person to access it from the front “inevitably resulting in a frontal confrontation with the head of the cow”.

The cow had been startled and jumped at Mrs Wishart, he added, knocking her back onto the lower rail of the pen before landing on her and striking her repeatedly as it tried to regain its feet.

Mr MacKenzie added: “I hesitate to use the word failings, but there were reasonable precautions that could have been taken that were not taken.” He said that risk could not be eliminated from crofting and farming and that any inherently dangerous activity does not become safe with repetition.

Sheriff Philip Mann concluded the inquiry by expressing his “sincere condolences to Mr Wishart and his family for their very tragic and untimely loss”. A sheriff’s report on the fatal accident will be prepared.

Mrs Wishart is survived by her husband, two children Steven and Yvonne, and brother Brian Johnson.