A hill farmer accused of driving his tractor into a policeman in a dispute over access rights has walked free from court.

Frank Ainsworth, who farms near Rossendale, Lancashire, was arrested after being accused of driving his tractor straight at his neighbour, police sergeant Colin MacDiarmid, gashing his leg.

The pair had been embroiled in a lengthy argument over access rights at Turn Hill Farm, with more than 20 incidents reported to the police over three years since Sgt MacDairmid had moved into a cottage on the farm.

The dispute culminated in Sgt MacDiarmid being injured while he was digging holes in a gravelled lane near his home.

Sgt MacDiarmid said the sheep farmer threatened to drive over him if he did not stop what he was doing.

He claimed Mr Ainsworth then drove his tractor at him at 20mph, catching his leg.

This week, Mr Ainsworth was brought before Burnley magistrates court to face charges of assault and criminal damage.

However, the case was dropped after Sgt MacDairmid failed to attend the hearing because he had been seconded to Cardiff ahead of a Nato conference.

Prosecutors had argued the case should be adjourned to allow Sgt MacDairmid to attend, but magistrates insisted the case went ahead, forcing the prosecution to offer no evidence.

Mr Ainsworth, who was awarded his costs by the court, had denied the charges and said the case had been a phenomenal waste of police time and taxpayers’ money.

He told the court his 25-year-old tractor would have struggled to reach 20mph going downhill, even in top gear.

“As regards his injury, I have had worst grazes on my hands catching sheep,” he added.

“I was doing 5mph on my tractor and he was digging in the road in the dark – I simply didn’t know he was there.”

Mr Ainsworth said he had offered to undertake mediation but the police officer had refused.

Sgt MacDiarmid has since moved out of the cottage. The prosecution blamed his absence on an “admin error”.

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