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Landowner fined after public attacked by cows

Posted on 12th June, 2023

A landowner has been fined after public were attacked by cows which resulted in serious injuries.  A fine of £15,000 was imposed after members of the public were seriously injured by cattle while walking along footpaths on the landowner’s estate.

Sir Charles Hobhouse pleaded guilty to health and safety failings at his Monkton Farleigh Estate in Bradford-on-Avon.

It follows two separate incidents in summer 2021 in which people using public footpaths on his land were attacked by cows.

Retired military officer, Michael Booley, was walking his dogs with his wife Joanne and their friend Josian Gauld on 5 June 2021. They found the public right of way blocked by an electric fence and no alternative route provided. After carefully negotiating a fence to continue along the path, the trio were approached and attacked by several cows.

Mrs Booley suffered serious injuries including a fractured shoulder and broken ribs.  Mr Booley, 57, said the attack was ‘horrendous’ and that he felt ‘powerless’ to protect the pair from the aggressive herd. Mr Booley added:

“Experiencing battle as a soldier is different to being attacked out in the countryside when on a leisure walk on a public right of way. I witnessed my wife being relentlessly stamped on and head butted by the cows and at one stage she was not responding.  I also witnessed my friend desperately trying to find cover behind a tree and fighting the attacking cows with her rucksack as they attacked her from both sides. I still have nightmares about it.”

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Sir Charles Hobhouse had failed to ensure the risks to members of the public were controlled, including where possible, that cattle with calves were suitably segregated from the public footpath. HSE has advice for farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers on dealing with the risks posed by cows with calves.

Despite being formally instructed to implement controls to prevent a similar incident, a second attack occurred weeks later on 19 August 2021.

Local builder James Johnson was out for an early morning run with his dog along the footpath when he was attacked by cattle shortly after 6am. Mr Johnson said:

“I remember the incident clearly. There were two groups of cows, one of which was running fast towards me and the other coming from a different direction.  When I realised what was happening, I let the dog go and started to run.  The cattle ran into me and knocked me onto the ground, where I was trampled, pushed and head butted.  Every time I attempted to get back up; they pushed me back down. Near the end, when I was exhausted and hurt, I fell to the ground one more time and remember thinking ‘this is it – this is where I die’.”

Mr Johnson sustained significant injuries including concussion, dislocated shoulders, broken ribs, and broken vertebrae. He was in hospital for several days. On this occasion there had been no measures to segregate the cows from the footpath.

Sir Charles Hobhouse pleaded guilty at Taunton Crown Court to breaching two counts of section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 3 May 2023. At a sentencing hearing at Bristol Crown Court on 8 June 2023 he was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,000.

HSE Inspector Leo Diez said:

“Large animals can be a risk to people. Even a gentle knock from a cow can result in injury. Seemingly docile cattle can pose a risk to walkers when they are under stress or feel threatened and can exhibit instinctive maternal or aggressive behaviour.  Where possible cows with calves should not be grazed in fields where there is a public right of way. Where this is not possible, they should be segregated from the footpath by appropriate fencing where it is reasonable to do so.”

Cattle safety advice for farmers and landowners

The HSE has published guidance to promote safety and the Cattle and public access in England and Wales: Advice for farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers (AIS 17EW) is available for free download.  A risk assessment can help you identify the hazards and put controls in place to protect yourself, farm staff and the public.  You should record the significant findings of your risk assessment and review these regularly and when there are changes.

The NFU has also published guidance to help farmers stay safe around cattle which is available on its website.

Key considerations for farmers and landowners include:

  • No dairy bulls should be kept in fields with a public right of way (PROW) at any time.
  • Where possible avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with PROW.
  • Where there is a need to keep cattle with calves or a bull in a field with PROW do all that you can to keep animals and people separated.  Consider the use of fencing (permanent or temporary e.g. electric fencing). This is particularly important at busy times or where PROW are heavily used.
  • Assess the temperament of any cattle before putting them into a field with PROW.
  • If cattle, especially cows with calves, do need to be put into fields with PROW, keep this period to a minimum.
  • Position feed and water troughs away from the PROW and away from PROW entrances and exists to the field.
  • Put in place a system to monitor any cattle in fields with PROW at least on a daily basis. It may be worth recording this.
  • Consider culling any animal that shows signs of aggression.
  • Any animal that has shown any sign of aggression must not be kept in a field with PROW.
  • Clearly sign post all PROW across the farm. Display signage at all entrances to the field stating what is in the field (cows with calves / bulls).

If you require advice and support for your farm, please contact Mark Stouph in our Regulatory Team.

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