A young farm volunteer was killed after her hair and clothes got caught in the drive shaft of a milling machine, a court was told.
Lauren Scott, from Kenton, near Exeter, Devon, suffered horrific fatal injuries after she was dragged through a PTO shaft on the milling machine.
The 20-year-old had been volunteering at Springfield Farm, a smallholding near Dawlish, on 4 March 2017 when the incident happened. She died at the scene from multiple injuries.
Landowner Neil Carpenter, 45, of Dawlish is on trial at Exeter Crown Court accused of her manslaughter by gross negligence. He denies the charge.
However, he has admitted two health and safety charges – one relating to Ms Scott and a second to other safety breaches involving two other female helpers on previous occasions.
The court heard on Monday (29 October) that Miss Scott’s hair and clothes were caught in the rotating arm of the PTO shaft, which was attached to the milling machine and the red Case tractor.
Old milling machine
David Sapiecha, prosecuting, said the milling machine was old and designed before the Second World War, but adapted to be fitted with the PTO as its source of power. The machine was used to crush barley and corn for animal feed using rollers.
Mr Sapiecha said: “Lauren was a regular visitor to the farm to help out with the work there, She was not paid. She took pleasure from the animals, particularly the pigs she enjoyed looking after.
“Lauren was 5’2″ tall and had long hair. She was wearing a headband and her hair was relatively loose. Her hair and clothes at some point became caught and trapped in that PTO shaft.
“The effect would have been instantaneous and catastrophic. The power produced and speed was incredibly dangerous. There was no possibility of her pulling away or reacting because it was too quick and too powerful.”
Mr Sapiecha added that the PTO shaft had a yellow plastic cover. But it was poorly maintained and the ends of the shaft were exposed, and the cover was also broken in parts. A new one would have cost £75. He said even a glance at the cover would have revealed its obvious defects.
The jury heard that Mr Carpenter’s failure of care was a criminal matter and he said Ms Scott should not have been put at “any greater risk that someone paid there because she volunteered”.
The court heard that Mr Carpenter, a traffic warden in Dawlish, was the owner of the 4ha smallholding on the outskirts of the seaside resort. He ran it with family members and they kept sheep, pigs, cows, chickens and ducks.
‘She loved animals’
Mr Sapiecha told the jury that Lauren was part of a close family and “she loved animals”.
She worked at Pets Corner at Powderham Castle; she worked in stables; was a horse catcher at Newton Abbot racecourse; and she kept three horses as well as rabbits, chickens and one of the family’s five dogs.
He added: “She was bright and sensible and her dad had taught her to be careful around machinery.”
Mr Sapiecha said Mr Carpenter had attended a four-year course at Bicton Agricultural College, during which PTO safety would have been taught.
The defendant told police he was attending to pigs in the barn when the incident happened. But the prosecution say he lied about the sequence of events on the day of Ms Scott’s death.
Phone video clip
Mr Sapiecha said Ms Scott had used her phone to make a seven-second video of some of the piglets she was looking after – and in the background Mr Carpenter appears to be in the cab of an old tractor, which he started up.
The prosecutor said: “He said Lauren had gone off and he did not know where. When he came out of there he heard a loud bang and he could see smoke. The engine was running, that was a surprise to him. He climbed into the cab and turned off the PTO and ignition.
“He walked to the rear of the milling machine, which was on its side, and saw Lauren on her back. She was naked apart from her bra, such was the force it had ripped off her clothes and deposited them around.
“He said he did not ask or tell Lauren to use the mill as it was broken and would not bruise the grain. The prosecution say this is lies. He was aware Lauren was using the mill at the time. His tractor was running.”
Mr Sapiecha said Ms Scott’s piglets video had “by chance” caught the sound of the old tractor starting up and someone was in the tractor cab – and only Ms Scott and Mr Carpenter were at the smallholding and Lauren was shooting the video.
According to the prosecutor, Mr Carpenter had a “cavalier attitude to safety”.
He added: “We do not allege he intended to kill her but he was a person running a farm with a duty of care over her safety. He breached that in a number of ways.”
The trial continues.