21 January 2000

Open day caution

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS holding open days for school children have been advised to contact their insurers after a six-year-old boy was left severely brain damaged following a farm visit.

High Court judge Mr Justice Brian Smedley this week granted an initial payment of £200,000 for the care of Tom Dowling who was infected by E.coli 0157 during a visit to Bowmans Open Farm at Colney Heath, Herts, in 1997.

The judge heard that the eventual final payment could total "several millions". Tom needs round-the-clock lifetime care and can communicate only by blinking and smiling.

Bowmans Open Farm and the London Borough of Barnet, which organised the trip, have already admitted liability. At the time Tom contracted E.coli, around 112,000 children were visiting Bowmans Farm each year.

The familys solicitor, Jill Greenfield, said the case will have far-reaching implications for similar school trips. Farms, schools and local authorities would have to review the precautions taken on trips, she added.

Tim Price spokesman for insurers NFU Mutual described the case as a "tragic incident". The company was acutely aware of the risks involved but had no plans to review how it insures open farms as a result, he said.

Farmers with standard insurance should be covered for liability of up to £10million for open days where no money changes hands, he said. But anyone considering holding an open day should check first with their local agent.

A spokeswoman for the NFU said the union issued new guidelines to minimise the risk of contracting E.coli soon after the incident. The Health and Safety Authority and Department of Health helped produce the advice, she said. &#42