Award winning manager denies manslaughter and says Newton Poppleford tractor death still haunts him

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

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

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

Mr Dorman, aged 25, was moving freshly harvested silage at Houghton Farm, Newton Poppleford, Devon, when his tractor and trailer fell 16 feet through a hedge into a sunken lane in May 2014.

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 the accident was ‘the worst day of his life’ and that he thinks about Kevin every day.

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

Mr Perrott is alleged to have caused the death through a grossly negligent lack of maintenance of the trailer unit. His employers, the Clinton Devon Farm Partnership, deny corporate manslaughter.

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The company is a division of Clinton Devon Estates which manages 2,800 acres of organic farmland for Lord Clinton’s Clinton Devon Estates, which has a total of 17,000 acres and is Devon’s biggest private landowner.

Mr Perrott, aged 51, won Farmers Weekly’s Farm Manager of the Year award in 2007 and was a judge in the next year’s contest.

He said he grew up on a farm, trained at Seale Hayne agricultural college at Newton Abbot and worked in farming all his adult life. He had known Kevin since he was a boy and employed him for a year before the accident.

He 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.”

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.

He said Kevin’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. Its tyres and wheels were checked daily.

He said GPS tracking on the tractor which was being used with the trailer showed it stopping and starting in the farm yard as its brakes were checked on May 14, five days before the crash.

He said he tightened the ‘slack adjuster’ on the air brakes of the trailer. He said: “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 okay.”

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 and went straight to see if he could help.

Perrott, aged 51, of Colebrook, Crediton, denies gross negligence manslaughter and Clinton Devon Farms Partnership, (CDFP) of Hawkerland Road, Colaton Raleigh, deny corporate manslaughter. Both deny failing to ensure the safety of an employee. Kevin 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.

He was engaged to his fiancee Kirsty Clode and they were buying a house together on a shared ownership scheme. He was a keen footballer who played as striker for Sidmouth Town.

The trial continues.

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