Farm death due to decrepit tractor, sheriff rules

Thomas Neil died at Shiel Farn in Sorn, East Ayrshire

A FARMER who was crushed to death by his 40-year-old tractor could have lived if he had scrapped the ageing farm vehicle, a sheriff has ruled.

Thomas Neil died of asphyxia after he became trapped between the tractor and a metal gate at Shiel Farm in Sorn, East Ayrshire.

But the tragedy on December 4 last year may not have happened if the tractor’s use had been discontinued.

Mr Neil’s death, at  could also been averted if the three and a half tonne vehicle was roadworthy or only used on flat road surfaces, according to the findings of a fatal accident inquiry, which took place at Ayr Sheriff Court.

And in a written judgment on the case Sheriff Desmond Leslie said Mr Neil was “lax” in his attention to personal safety.

The absence of a regular regime of servicing of the vehicle also contributed to his death, he added.

The 64-year-old had been working with his son in law Craig Douglas on the day of his death attaching doors to a farm shed, said the sheriff.

When Mr Douglas later returned home he put away his tools and began speaking with a neighbour Alan McKay.

Mr Neil, who ran his farm business A&M Neil in partnership with his brother John, had remained in the shed to work with cattle there, the judge added.

Mr McKay then left to seek out Mr Neil from the shed but returned about a minute later shouting for help, he said.


Both men then returned to the shed where Mr Neil had been working and found him trapped between the rear of a tractor and a metal gate, the inquiry heard.

The tractor had its engine running but did not appear to have its gears engaged, said the sheriff.

Mr Neil’s brother was called and he managed to move the tractor forward to release his sibling, but attempts made to revive Mr Neil failed, added the judge.

He said: “The sad and premature death of Mr Neil was a consequence of his lax attention to his personal safety combined with his operation of an inadequately maintained tractor with a defective and inefficient braking system.

“His death is a reminder of the need to recognise the hazards associated with agricultural machinery in particular and industrial machinery in general.

“The Massey Ferguson tractor which Mr Neil used had a limited purpose around the farm.

“His mechanical appreciation of the mechanical idiosyncrasies of the machine was insufficient to avoid the accident.

“Although he would have been aware of how the tractor performed and developed techniques to counteract the braking failures of the tractor these were no substitute for proper maintenance.

“Unless the tractor had been subject to regular mechanical servicing and renewal which would have addressed the braking malfunction, the vehicle should have been disused.”

Mr Neil’s brother immediately scrapped the tractor after a prohibition notice, which deemed the tractor was dangerous, was served upon him in the weeks after the tragedy.

The sheriff said the inquiry had heard that Mr Neil was a “strong and hard-working man who was committed to his work and family”.

“He worked seven days a week and was always willing to assist his neighbours in their chores.  He was a man who was devoted to his family and to his work”, the sheriff said.