Limousin and Limousin cross cattleLibrary picture: Limousin and Limousin cross cattle © FLPA/Rex/Shutterstock

A farmer has been ordered to pay £30,000 after his herd of cows trampled and killed one rambler and injured another.

Brothers Mike and John Porter were walking on a public footpath that went through a field where cows with calves were grazing at Turleigh, near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. The cows belonged to 83-year-old local farmer Brian Godwin.

The brothers were walking dogs on leads when they were attacked by the herd of Limousin cross continental cows on 13 May, 2013.

See also: Tips on staying legal with bulls and cows near footpaths

Mike Porter, a 66-year-old retired university professor from Edinburgh, suffered fatal internal bleeding from crush injuries caused by cattle trampling him.

His elder brother, John Porter, 73, who lives near Bath, suffered multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung and general contusions, but survived.

Swindon Crown Court heard that Mr Godwin’s cattle had attacked four members of the public in five years on the 162ha farm, including a dog walker who suffered a broken neck.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident found that Mr Godwin had not taken reasonable precautions to protect members of the public walking on footpaths through his fields from his cattle.

Where livestock are judged to present a risk to walkers, they should be segregated by fencing or kept in fields without footpaths.

The cattle may have attacked the walkers because they perceived a risk to their calves from the men and their dogs, the court was told.

Mr Godwin, of Timothy Rise Farm, Winsley Rise, Limpley Stoke, pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety at work regulations. He was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay court costs of £30,000.

Judge Tim Mousley QC spared Mr Godwin jail because of his age.

Reaction to sentencing

Speaking after the hearing, Adrienne Sillar, Prof Porter’s partner of 35 years and mother of their two children, said: “While nothing will bring Mike back to us, we hope that this important case can serve to highlight the issues associated with the safety of the public using rights of way when livestock are present. 

“Mike’s death was avoidable, and our hope is that no one else should run the risk of injury or death when enjoying the countryside responsibly.”

HSE inspector Dawn Lawrence said: “Farmers and landowners have a legal duty to assess the risks from livestock to people using any rights of way on their land, and to take all reasonable precautions.

“Wherever possible, farmers should avoid keeping cows with calves in fields with public footpaths. If that is impossible, and they need to keep cattle and walkers apart, temporary fencing is easy and cheap to provide.”

Educate dog walkers on dangers

Chris Mallon, chief executive of the National Beef Association (NBA), said more needed to be done to inform the public of the dangers of walking dogs through farm fields of cows and calves.

“It’s a very difficult issue. I can see both sides. The public needs access to the countryside, but farms are working environments,” he said.

“Dog walkers must know the dangers of being in a field of cattle and calves. I have been working with cattle for years, but it would never cross my mind to walk through a field of cows and calves with a pet dog.

“I don’t think it’s breed-specific. A cow’s maternal instincts will be to protect her calf. That’s just nature, in the same way as a mother protects her child.”

Mr Mallon said asking farmers to put up temporary fencing to keep cattle and walkers apart was “impractical”.

He added: “Perhaps a better solution would be to put signs up to keep dog walkers out of fields while cattle and calves are in them.”

  • What do you think should be done to lower the number of deaths or serious injuries to members of the public caused by cattle? Email the newsdesk at philip.case@rbi.co.uk