Farmer ‘had no choice’ over putting cows in field with footpath, inquest hears

The owner of a herd of cattle which fatally trampled a walker told an inquest he had “no alternative” but to put them in a field with a footpath running through it.

Michael Holmes, 57, was crushed to death by the cows while his wife Teresa Holmes is in a wheelchair following the incident on September 29 2020.

The couple were on a lunchtime walk during the Covid-19 lockdown with two dogs on leads when they crossed a field at Hollinghurst Farm in Netherton, West Yorkshire.

An inquest at Wakefield Civil and Family Justice Centre previously heard they followed a public footpath up a steep hill but were unaware that around 30 cows with calves were at the top of the slope.

Michael and Teresa Holmes
Michael Holmes died and his wife Teresa was left in a wheelchair following the incident on September 29 2020 (Family handout/PA)

Jurors were told of three incidents in the three months before Mr Holmes’s death in which walkers with dogs on leads were chased by cattle in the same field, including one which left a man with serious injuries.

On Tuesday, farmer Martin Mitchell said he was “totally unaware” of his cattle being aggressive towards walkers before Mr Holmes’s death.

He said he had been visited by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector after Netherton resident John Burgess suffered four broken ribs when he was knocked to the ground by the cows in June 2020, but was not told exactly what had happened.

“I’d been given information that he had been taken to A&E but I wasn’t made aware of the extent of the injuries,” Mr Mitchell said.

He said he did not know about incidents in July and August 2020 which were not reported before Mr Holmes’s death.

Mr Mitchell also told the inquest he had not received a letter sent by Wakefield Council in 2017 after a further incident of a walker being chased by cows in the field.

The 69-year-old said after the incident involving Mr Burgess – three months before Mr Holmes’s death – he had put signs next to the stiles leading into the field telling walkers to keep their dogs under control.

Michael Holmes
Michael Holmes (Family handout/PA)

The inquest heard the signs did not warn that cows with calves were in the field.

Asked whether he had taken any other steps to manage the risk of cattle with calves coming into contact with dog walkers after Mr Burgess was injured, Mr Mitchell said: “We have no alternatives, basically.

“The cows have to graze in them particular fields.”

The inquest heard he could not remove any aggressive cows as he was unable to identify which ones were involved in the incident.

Asked whether he could have moved them into a field without a public footpath, Mr Mitchell said he “had nowhere else to put them” and needed all 33 acres across three fields to maintain the herd’s grazing throughout summer.

Jurors heard the HSE has since served Mr Mitchell a prohibition notice preventing him from grazing cattle in the field where Mr Holmes was killed.

The inquest also heard evidence from Mr Mitchell’s son Edward Mitchell, who called 999 after finding Mr and Mrs Holmes on the ground.

He said he rushed to the field from the farmhouse after hearing the cows making a distressed noise, and performed CPR on Mr Holmes, who was not breathing, until an air ambulance arrived.

The inquest continues.