Farmer fined after couple hurt

Sidbury tractor accident. Ref shs 5824-38-14SH Picture: Simon Horn

Sidbury tractor accident. Ref shs 5824-38-14SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

A farmer, who caused an elderly couple life-altering injuries when his tractor’s one-tonne load fell in an accident at Sidbury Fair, has been fined £695.

Robert Summers, 57, denied a charge of using a vehicle in such a way as to cause danger of injury on September 17, 2014, but was found guilty at Exeter Magistrates’ Court on Friday (July 3). His driving licence was also endorsed with three points.

Summers, of Voggis Hill Farm, Sidmouth, called it the “worst day of his life” as he recounted how a water tank fell from his tractor amid a packed crowd at the annual event, trapping an elderly couple.

The court heard how he had left the vehicle unattended, with the engine off and the heavy load high off the ground, while he assisted with preparations at the fair.

Summers told the court it was when he returned to the tractor cab that he must have accidently brushed a leaver, causing the load to lower, even with the engine switched off.

He denied allegations that he left the load in an unsafe, precarious position and said he followed all usual processes to ensure it was secure.

The prosecution questioned why he did not leave the forks of the loader on the ground when the vehicle was stationary.

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Summers said: “Believe you me, I wish I had, but I have had that loader up in the air all day and it has never moved a muscle.

“I thought it was safer up there as there were a lot of people around.”

In a written statement, eyewitness Graham Bull told the court: “I suddenly heard a cracking noise and realised it was the arms of the loader moving quite quickly.”

He said the load reached about knee height before falling completely off the tractor, trapping holidaying pensioners Leslie and Joan Davis in its wake. The court heard that both victims sustained serious injuries and Mrs Davis was airlifted to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where she stayed for three weeks, before being transferred closer to their Surrey home.

Police forensic evidence confirmed examination of the tractor showed no mechanical defects which could have caused or contributed to the accident.

Speaking on behalf of the defendant, solicitor Robert Jacobs said: “The offence for which Mr Summers is charged is a low-level offence.

“The circumstances around it have made it a more emotionally draining case.

“It is always far more distressing when some people have been injured.

“You saw how distressed Mr Summers was; he is clearly a man who has suffered from his actions.”

He concluded that, while Summers accepted blame for the incident and had to live with the consequences, he had done “everything he could to make sure members of the public were safe”.

On passing the guilty verdict, the magistrate said: “Whilst the load may have been safe during its transit from the farm to Sidbury, Mr Summers rendered it unsafe by leaving the tractor with the engine off and the load raised and unattended.”

In a written statement, Mr Davis told the court: “We are now nine months on from the terrible incident that has affected a great part of our lives.

“Joan has recovered as much as she can, but her leg will be disfigured.

“Our ability to walk has been greatly affected.

“We accept it was an accident, but it was criminally stupid to drive such a tractor into a public event.”

In his closing statement, Mr Jacobs said Summers’ distress had been doubled when he received a letter from police saying charges against him had been dropped, only for him to be re-summoned.

He also extended an apology to Mr and Mrs Davis from the defendant.