A prominent farmer who was crushed to death under a 6.6 ton vehicle could have survived if he had been wearing a seatbelt, a sheriff has ruled.
John Hamilton, 57, died when the farm truck he was driving careered down a hill before throwing him out and landing on top of him.
A fatal accident inquiry heard the vehicle had faulty brakes and Mr Hamilton – who was discovered by his son Harry – rarely, if ever, wore the seatbelt.
Mr Hamilton was a Director of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland and former President of the Blackface Sheep Breeders Association.
In a written judgment, Sheriff Fiona Tait said: “A line of turnips had been tipped roughly from the entrance to the field.
“It is apparent that the vehicle was then driven up the steepest part of the field towards the trees at the top of the hill.
“At the time of the incident, the weather and conditions underfoot were dry. The surface of the field was in good condition with the grass closely cropped.
“The incident itself was unwitnessed. At around 13:20 hours, Harry Hamilton attended at the field to look for his father, Mr Hamilton.
“He found the vehicle overturned, lying on its side at the foot of the hill and Mr Hamilton lying on his back beneath the telescopic boom.
“Mr Hamilton was trapped and unresponsive at that time. Harry Hamilton telephoned immediately for an ambulance.
“The telescopic lifting boom was in the raised position at that time. The grain bucket was seen further up the hill, having detached from the lifting boom.
“There were also areas of fresh damage to the ground and rolling tyre marks present.
“Helimed 76 based at Scone, Perthshire, was dispatched to the locus…and found Mr Hamilton still trapped beneath the telescopic boom of the vehicle.
“He was not breathing and had no pulse. John Pritchard, paramedic, noted the presence of post mortem staining to his lower back and an obvious crush injury to his chest.”
Mr Hamilton, Innerwick, East Lothian, died on 24 March last year at Nunraw North Lodge farm in Gifford, East Lothian, after losing control of the Merlo telescopic handler he was operating.
The father-of-three, who was known as Joffy, was using the vehicle’s grain bucket to feed turnips to livestock on the 1,100-acre farm. The inquiry was told he was not wearing the vehicle’s fitted seatbelt.
Sheriff Tait said: “The death of Mr. Hamilton might realistically have been avoided had he worn the seatbelt fitted within the vehicle which he was driving when the accident occurred.
“Other facts which are relevant to the circumstances of the death are that the service brakes of the Merlo P40.7 telescopic handler, registration number SN13 EUH, were in a poor state of repair and, as a result, not in good working order.
“When the vehicle began to roll backwards down the hill, depression of the brake pedal would have generated braking force insufficient to stop it.”
Health and Safety Inspector Garry Miller told the Fatal Accident Inquiry that the vehicle’s brake pedal was defective and only working at 12 per cent of its maximum capacity.
He said: “This would not have been sufficient to hold the vehicle on a 20 degree slope and it would therefore have started to run backwards down the slope.
“In the absence of braking provided by the hydrostatic drive system it would have picked up speed as it went.
“Evidence from the position and condition of the seatbelt indicates that it was rarely, if ever, used. Had Mr Hamilton been wearing the seatbelt at the time of the accident he would not have been ejected from the cab and may have avoided fatal injury.”
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