A Dorset farm owner and his two farm businesses are facing costs of £135,000 after a 29-year-old worker died following exposure to toxic gases.

Dorchester Crown Court heard on Monday (23 February) that Matthew Pitt and a colleague David Bartlett were working at Lowbrook Farm, owned by Clifford Owen Yeatman, in Bechalwell, Blandford Forum.

Matthew John Pitt

Matthew John Pitt, who died after exposure to toxic fumes

Both men were exposed to toxic gases during maintenance of an anaerobic digestion plant at the farm on 24 June 2009.

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According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), on 24 June 2009, Mr Pitt and Mr Bartlett were tasked with opening the roof of the digester tank to free a stirring mechanism.

They were engulfed by toxic hydrogen sulphide gas and lost consciousness.

Mr Bartlett came round and raised the alarm after he found his colleague lying next to him. But Mr Pitt was later declared dead after he failed to regain consciousness.

Two paramedics and two other farmworkers also suffered from the effects of the fumes.

The biodeigester at Lowbrook Farm

The biodigester at Lowbrook Farm, where the accident took place

An HSE investigation found that workers had not been trained to remove the roof and did not recognise that it was a specialist job.

In addition, work at height during the removal of the roof was also carried out without adequate safety precautions.

The HSE probe also identified that a similar incident 12 months earlier, which had never been reported, occurred when a farm worker fell unconscious after he was exposed to toxic gas while replacing the clamps that held the roof seal in place.

HSE Inspector Annette Walker said the risks of exposure to hydrogen sulphide were “well-known”.

“What has happened at that farm demonstrates the importance of having safe systems of work in place, particularly for maintenance and repair work where the risk of exposure is likely to be highest.”

Mr Pitt’s mother, Janet Pitt, told the court she had still not come to terms with the death of her son, who was her “best buddy”.

“We were a close-knit farming family that did everything together,” she added.

“We lived, worked hard and played together. All that has ended and although we carry on with our lives, behind the strong exterior lies broken hearts that will never be mended.”

Mr Yeatman, 63, was fined £15,000 as a director of Biogas Nord UK (Ltd) after admitting breaches of the Health and Safety Act.

His company, Farmergy Ltd, was fined £10,000 Both Mr Yeatman and Farmergy Ltd were ordered to pay £75,000 in costs.