Man trampled to death by cows on lockdown walk near home, inquest hears

Michael and Teresa Holmes (Family Handout/PA) (PA Media)
Michael and Teresa Holmes (Family Handout/PA) (PA Media)

A telecoms worker died after being trampled by cows minutes from his home while on a lunchtime walk during the Covid-19 lockdown, an inquest has heard.

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

Mrs Holmes told the hearing the couple, who were childhood sweethearts and had been married for 34 years, had started taking daily walks together while both were working from home during the pandemic.

They left their house in the West Yorkshire village of Netherton to take one of their regular routes, which Mrs Holmes said usually took half an hour.

On that day the couple also had their daughter’s two dogs, which were both on fixed leads.

The inquest heard they entered a field at JA Mitchell & Sons Farm, and followed a public footpath up a steep hill but were unaware that several dozen cows with calves were at the top of the slope.

CCTV footage from a nearby property appeared to show the cows approaching Mr and Mrs Holmes from behind and “accelerating”.

Mr Holmes sustained fatal chest injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene, while Mrs Holmes spent six months in hospital after suffering a spinal cord injury and fractured ribs.

Mrs Holmes said she has no recollection of the incident, possibly due to her memory “protecting” her.

The mother-of-two told the inquest she remembers asking her husband which route they were going to take minutes before going into the field, but has no memory after that until she woke up in hospital weeks later, which she said “is a good thing really, considering what happened”.

The inquest heard Covid-19 restrictions meant Mrs Holmes was not allowed visitors for much of her time in hospital, with her two daughters having to stand at the window to see her.

She said they also had to break the news to her that her husband had died.

“It was a very, very traumatic time, quite isolating,” Mrs Holmes said.

It was a very, very traumatic time, quite isolating

Teresa Holmes

“I was just really confused, I couldn’t work out why I was there and my daughters eventually had to explain they had lost their dad.”

The two dogs managed to escape and were found by a neighbour near Mr and Mrs Holmes’s house, it was said.

Mrs Holmes said she and Mr Holmes had been in the same field “scores” of times and were aware it “sometimes” had cattle in, but that they did not see them on that day due to the steep hill.

“I do recall incidents where we came the reverse way and you can see the cows from there,” she told the hearing.

“There were times when we’d seen them and decided not to go in the field because I don’t want to cross a field I know has got cattle in.”

Jurors were shown a picture of a sign at the bottom of the field that said: “These fields produce your food, clean up after your dog. Please keep your dog in sight and under control.”

Mrs Holmes said there was no sign saying cows with calves were in the field.

“It’s my understanding there were calves and if they have seen the dogs on the field, even though they were on leads, they would have felt potentially a threat from them,” she said.

“I feel there should be some signage there that says ‘there are cattle with calves’. Had that been the case, we would definitely not have entered.

“They shouldn’t be on a public footpath where they are likely to charge.”

Mrs Holmes said at the time she had not been aware of any other incidents involving cows in that field.

The inquest heard evidence from two walkers who had been chased by cows in the same field less than four months before Mr Holmes was killed, including one who was injured.

Netherton resident John Burgess said he suffered four broken ribs and “quite severe bruising” after being attacked in June 2020.

The retired architect said he was struck from behind while trying to drag his dog out of the field after cows had surrounded him.

Mr Burgess told the inquest he had not realised the cattle were there as it was a foggy day, and never went into that field if he knew cows were in it as his daughter had been chased during a further incident in 2017.

Natalie Bain, who moved to the village in 2019, said she had “never been back” in the field since a “terrifying” near miss with “stampeding” cattle in August 2020.

The inquest heard that in all three incidents, the walkers had dogs on leads with them.

The inquest at Wakefield Civil & Family Justice Centre heard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had recorded nine UK fatalities due to cattle in five years, with HSE inspector Sarah Taylor saying there had been a spike in incidents in 2020.

Farmer Martin Mitchell, whose family have run the farm since 1963, said he had not been aware of any problems with his cattle being “aggressive”, but said cows with calves did not mix well with dogs because they “see a dog as a predator”.

Mr Mitchell told the inquest that since Mr Holmes’s death he had submitted proposals to Wakefield Council to divert the footpath so that it went along the boundary of the field rather than straight through the middle, with an extra fence to protect walkers.

The inquest heard two objections had been lodged, triggering a public inquiry.

Mr Mitchell said Mr Holmes’s death had been “devastating to us all”.

The inquest continues.