Farm manager denies manslaughter of young worker in tractor crash

An award-winning farm manager has denied causing the death of a young tractor driver and told a manslaughter jury that the tragedy haunts him every day.

George Perrott told Exeter Crown Court he adjusted and checked the brakes on the trailer that farmworker Kevin Dorman was using just five days before a fatal crash.

Mr Dorman, 25, was moving freshly harvested silage at Houghton Farm, Newton Poppleford, Devon, when his tractor and trailer fell 5m through a hedge into a sunken lane in May 2014.

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He suffered fatal head injuries when the trailer, which was half full of silage, fell on top of the cab of his tractor.

Mr Perrott said: “It was the worst day of my life. I have thought about it every day since. I live a few hundred yards down the road and every time I pass the scene of the accident, I think about it.”

The prosecution says the accident happened because the brakes on the Richard Western trailer he was towing failed, forcing the tractor down a steeply sloping, rain-sodden field.

Devon’s biggest landowner

George Perrott

George Perrott © Nick Irving of Exeter

Mr Perrott is alleged to have caused the death through a grossly negligent lack of maintenance of the trailer unit.

His employer, the Clinton Devon Farms Partnership, (CDFP) of Colaton Raleigh, is the Clinton Devon Estates home farming operation and it manages 1,133ha of organic farmland.

Clinton Devon Estates is Devon’s biggest private landowner, with 6,880ha in east and north Devon and 350 houses. It manages the holdings of Lord Clinton.

Mr Perrott, 51, won Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year award in 2007. He grew up on a farm, trained at Seale Hayne agricultural college at Newton Abbot and has worked in farming all his adult life.

He had known Mr Dorman since he was a boy and employed him for a year before the accident.

Mr Perrott said he had years of experience of maintaining farm vehicles, had attended health and safety courses and received support from the NFU in risk management.

Brakes problem

He said Mr Dorman’s father, James Dorman, had mentioned a problem with the brakes five days before the accident and he had adjusted and checked them immediately.

The trailer had also been checked thoroughly after being taken out of storage at the start of a silage season and a brake hose pipe had been replaced. The trailer’s tyres and wheels were checked daily.

Mr Perrott said GPS tracking on the tractor that was being used with the trailer showed it stopping and starting in the farmyard as its brakes were checked on 14 May, five days before the crash.

He said he tightened the “slack adjuster” on the air brakes of the trailer. He added: “I tapped the spanner on with my hammer and rotated the screw on each wheel a small amount, probably one turn.

“I increased the brake and then skid-tested it again. It was OK.”

Mr Perrott said on the day of the accident there was a late start to silaging because a wheel on the forager had to be replaced. There was a short rain storm but he checked the ground was safe to work on.

He was driving the forager when he had a call from one of the other tractor drivers about the accident and went straight to see if he could help.

Company denial

Mr Perrott,  51, of Colebrook, Crediton, denies gross negligence manslaughter and Clinton Devon Farms Partnership denies corporate manslaughter. Both deny failing to ensure the safety of an employee.

Mr Dorman was a former Sidmouth College and Bicton College student who had worked on farms since he was a schoolboy and worked for CDFP for a year.

The trial continues.