Farmer jailed for 10 months after telehandler tragedy

A farmer has been jailed for 10 months after another man was left with injuries “likened to a bomb victim” following a telehandler accident.

Clive Pearce © Avon and Somerset Police

On 20 January 2019 Clive Pearce, 50, of Martock, Somerset, drove a Caterpillar telehandler on the road in Kingsbury Episcopi, carrying inside the bucket two friends who had been drinking in the pub.

But 27-year-old Liam Earle fell out and suffered horrific injuries after he was crushed by the 10-tonne agricultural vehicle.

See also: Road rules reminder: Trailer safety, tractor speed and licences

He was airlifted to Southmead Hospital in Bristol where he is still being treated for catastrophic neck, back and pelvic injuries 10 months after the accident.

His spinal consultant said in his 20 years of experience he had never seen anyone with injuries “as serious or complex”. The police investigating officer likened Mr Earle’s injuries to those of a soldier who had been blown up by a bomb.

‘Attitudes must change’

In a statement, Mr Earle’s mother Nicki Schantz said although her son “did have a few pints” and “did get into the bucket”, the tragedy has highlighted the lax attitude towards farm safety, which needs to change.

She said: “It’s seen as a thrill to do something like that, like riding a rollercoaster. The difference, though, is life and death or life-changing injury and it needs to be stopped.”

Pearce admitted dangerous driving causing serious injury and driving without insurance.

In Taunton Crown Court on Tuesday (26 November), Pearce accepted that he had dismantled the vehicle’s braking system, leaving only the cable-operated handbrake as a means of stopping it.

He admitted allowing Mr Earle and a 24-year-old woman to sit in the bucket, despite this being against the vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines and legislation.

Pearce also accepted that he used the vehicle inappropriately to take signage down from height.

The court heard that the farmer is well-respected in the community and was helping out a friend before Mr Earle and the woman insisted on getting into the bucket.

Driving ban

As well as the 10-month prison term, Pearce was banned from driving for two years and five months, must complete an extended retest and pay a £170 victim surcharge.

Agricultural vehicle road safety and compliance officer PC Daniel Cox, who investigated the case, said it should be a “wake-up call” for people working in farming “who have little regard for safety, whether their own or others”.

Liam Earle © Avon and Somerset Police

Mr Earle is nearing his discharge from hospital and his family say he could walk again, but he faces a fight to recover.

Ms Schantz said: “Liam has suffered unbelievable injuries and the last 10 months have been the hardest of our lives, something I wish no family has to go through.

“The tragedy is that both Liam and the farmer will pay for it for the rest of their lives.”