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Farmer fined after cows trample pensioner and his dog

Patrick Atherton sustained head injuries after being knocked to the ground by seven cows
Patrick Atherton sustained head injuries after being knocked to the ground by seven cows - Health and Safety Executive / SWNS

A farmer has been fined after a pensioner and his dog were trampled by cows on a public footpath in June last year.

Patrick Atherton, 70, and his 13-year-old border collie Lad were knocked to the ground by seven cows while walking in Ottery Saint Mary, Devon.

The dog and Mr Atherton, who is a retired chartered surveyor, were only saved when an individual, believed to have been John Hallett, the farmer, ushered the cows away.

Mr Atherton was left with cuts and bruises, while Lad sustained serious injuries after being kicked and stamped on by the cows.

Having trained border collies for many years, the pensioner had kept Lad on the lead after noticing two young calves in the field at Birdcage Farm.

‘I thought we were going to die’

The pensioner, originally from The Wirral, Merseyside, said: “There were about seven cows involved, but it was the very aggressive black cow that was trying to kill my dog.

“I thought we were going to die. I had been powerless to do anything.”

Though the dog survived, it will have to be medicated for the rest of its life, and Mr Atherton said Lad has never been the same.

Mr Atherton added: “I just want to make other people aware of the risks when out enjoying popular footpaths such as this one.”

Mr Atherton was left with cuts and bruises after being kicked and stamped on by the cows
Mr Atherton was left with cuts and bruises after being kicked and stamped on by the cows - Health and Safety Executive / SWNS

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation following the incident found that cattle with young calves were being kept in a field with a public right of way across it.

Cattle with calves are known to be protective and can be aggressive to walkers, especially to those with dogs, and farmers are encouraged to cull any aggressive animals or avoid putting these animals in fields with public access.

Entrances to fields with public footpaths are expected to state clearly whether there are cows with calves, or bulls in the field.

Mr Hallett, who owns Birdcage Farm, later pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. He was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500 by Exeter Magistrates’ Court.

Simon Jones, an HSE inspector, said: “It is fortunate that the injuries sustained by Mr Atherton weren’t life threatening, however given the nature of the attack the end result could have been far worse.

“Public knowledge and concern is increasing about how dangerous cattle can be. On this occasion Mr Atherton took the right precautions and HSE has taken action against the farmer in question.”

He added: “Farmers should not place cattle with calves in fields where members of the public have a legal right to walk.

“Had John Hallett followed this simple rule, then this incident could have been prevented.”

Between 2018 and 2022, more than 30 people were killed by cows in similar incidents, while others have been left with life-changing injuries.

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