Farmer took own life after complaint to RSPCA about sheep

A dedicated farmer took her own life after an unfounded complaint was made to the RSPCA about the welfare of her sheep, an inquest heard.

Emma Watson, 43, was found dead by her mother in woodland near Oakamoor Farm, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, where they both lived.

A few weeks earlier, an anonymous report had been submitted to the RSPCA concerning the welfare of one of her sheep.

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Friends and family members told an inquest that Miss Watson had been upset by the allegations, Stoke-on-Trent Live reported.

However, an inspector who examined the animals said they were in “good condition” and confirmed there were “no welfare concerns for the animals”.

Staffordshire County Council inspector Paul Mills visited the farm, on Carr Bank, on 28 June 2019.

Anonymous complaint

He said in a statement: “An anonymous complaint had been made regarding a sheep covered in maggots. It was referred from the RSPCA. When I arrived I saw Emma Watson. I explained the reason for my visit and she started to get upset.

“She said she checked the sheep every day and was only aware of one sheep with flystrike and was adamant it had been treated. After I reassured her I was only following up the complaint, she became calmer.”

Ms Watson’s mother, Isabel, phoned the council on 3 July last year and it was agreed there were no major issues and a routine inspection would be carried out in October.

However, she told the inquest that she noticed her daughter was concerned.

Mrs Watson said: “Emma was always a very dedicated worker. She was very committed to the farm.”

But she added: “Emma seemed down. An inspector had made an appointment to come and check the animals. Things seemed to be getting on top of her.”

After she did not return home one evening, Mrs Watson found her daughter’s body in woodland near the farm on 10 August. The cause of death was given as hanging.

Ms Watson was a former pupil at Painsley Catholic College, in Cheadle. She had a degree in ecology and had no medical history of anxiety or depression, the inquest was told.

‘Total tragedy’

Senior coroner Andrew Barkley described her death as “a total tragedy”.

He said: “The only clear indication from the evidence as to why this happened appears to be the anxiety caused by this inspection, caused by a complaint to the RSPCA about the condition of one sheep.

“Flystrike will strike very quickly and that is no indication of a lack of care. The inspector indicated he clearly had no concern for that sheep or any other.

“It played disproportionately on her mind. Her mother said she was anxious about this and having to check animal records.”

Where to get help

Farmers who are struggling with their mental health need not suffer in silence. A number of free and confidential services are available. Talk to someone.

  • The Samaritans provides free, confidential, 24-hour phone support, which is available by calling 116 123 or emailing
  • The Mind website includes case studies of people Mind has helped, advice on how to help friends and family members who may be experiencing symptoms, a map for finding your local Mind team, and much more. Call 0300 123 3393 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm), email or text 86463
  • Farming Community Network (FCN). Call 03000 111 999
  • Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Rabi): Call 0808 281 9490

If you are feeling suicidal, seek immediate help. Go to any hospital A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.