Update: Law must be changed say family of Leeds schoolboy Harry Whitlam
THE family of a young Leeds boy hit and killed by a tractor have called for a change in the law which prevents over the limit drivers from being prosecuted on private roads.
Gary Green, 50, was reversing his tractor and slurry trailer on Swithens Farm in nearby Rothwell, when it struck 11-year-old Harry Whitlam, causing fatal injuries.
After an inquest, during which a jury reached a narrative conclusion on the cause of Harry’s death, Claire Vercammen from Switalskis Solictors read out a statement on behalf of Harry’s mum Pamela and her family.
She said: “It has been extremely distressing for the family to hear the evidence given today.
“In particular the fact that the driver was over twice the legal limit when the accident happened.
“Plus that Harry was there to be seen had the appropriate care been taken to see him.
“It is a legal anomaly that because the accident took place on private property there can be no prosecution.
“The family believe that there should be a change in the law regarding this.
“However, we hope that the evidence heard here will be considered as part of the ongoing HSC investigation.”
The statement then went on to describe Harry, who had spent a number of days helping out on the farm before his death and enjoyed playing with the animals.
The statement said: “Harry was never happier than when he was around the animals that he loved.
“We will always treasure the memories of the all too short time that we spent together.”
Ian Broadhead, owner of Swithens Farm, expressed his sorrow for the family upon leaving the coroners court.
He said: “My heart goes out to the family.
“Accidents happen and I am a big believer in fate.”
Speaking about the fact that Mr Green was found to be more than twice the legal drink limit, Mr Broadhead didn’t believe it played a part in the accident.
He said: “I don’t think that made the slightest bit of difference.
“How many people go to work in a morning after having had a drink the night before?”
Recording a narrative verdict, the foreman of the jury told Leeds Crown Court: “For reasons unclear and whilst unsupervised, Harry entered the working area of the farm and was struck by a tractor and slurry trailer.
“The driver of the tractor provided a positive breath test at the scene.”
Coroner Kevin McLaughlin told Harry’s mother Pamela and the rest of his family, who listened intently throughout the two-day hearing: “You have suffered an immense tragedy and I extend my sympathies.
“I hope that you remember the happy times Harry spent at the farm and not the gruesome events that we have heard here today.”
During the two-day hearing at Leeds Coroner’s Court, the jury heard Mr Green, 50, was arrested at the scene after he blew a high reading when he was breath-tested by police.
Detective Sergeant Benn Kemp told the jury it was “quite clear” Mr Green was drunk and smelled of alcohol when he spoke to him.
The labourer, who had worked at the farm for 30 years, later told police he had gone to bed at 2am that day after having several pints of beer in a pub and more cans of lager at home.
However, Mr Kemp told the jury the “vast majority” of traffic offences could only be committed on a public road.
He added: “The Crown Prosecution Service did site visits and identified that the location wasn’t classed as a public road and as such the police were unable to prosecute.”
The inquest heard Harry, of Bradford Road, East Ardsley, loved to be on the farm, arm, where his mother, Pamela, worked in the cafe.
He would help out with basic tasks like collecting eggs, but on the day of the incident had strayed into the working section of the farm, which is off-limits to the public.
Mr Green failed to see Harry behind the wheels of the trailer before reversing into him.
In a statement, Mrs Whitlam said her son was not under strict supervision on the farm, but knew about danger.
The statement said: “My last words to Harry were ‘be careful’.” It added: “I’m still in shock and heartbroken at the death of my little boy.”
The inquest heard there were a number of gates and barriers around the farm site to prevent the public from accessing hazardous areas.
Anthony Eyles, who works on the farm, said owner Ian Broadhead would reprimand workers who failed to shut gates.
He added: “Ian takes all the precautions he can.”
Asked if Harry would have been able to climb over gates, he added: “Anyone could.”
However, the jury heard that the farm was told to improve precautions following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.
Kate Dixon, a HSE inspector, told the inquest: “The investigating inspector served an improvement notice on Mr Broadhead to improve public segregation from the working farm following the accident.”
She said that subsequent measures to install more signs along with barriers and gates had met the requirements.
Green would have been able to see the 11-year-old just before he was hit, the inquest heard.
In evidence heard from PC Martin Ward - an expert in road traffic collisions - Harry would have been momentarily in view from the near side mirror of the tractor.
PC Ward said: “In the seconds before the impact, Harry would have been in view.
“How long he would have been in view would depend on how fast he was travelling.
“From the distance between the barn where he is thought to have come from and the back of the trailer where he was hit, it is 3-4 metres, and he would have been in view for 3-4 seconds.
“At the point of impact, however, it is likely that Harry would have been in a blind spot.”
PC Ward - who arrived at the scene shortly after the accident - also explained that while Mr Green could have seen Harry, there was also nothing to stop Harry from seeing the tractor.
Asked about whether someone should have been guiding Mr Green into his reversing space, PC Ward believed there should have been.
He said: “When you are reversing with a known blind spot with people and livestock milling around, I think there should be a banks man guiding him through.”
The inquest heard that when Mr Green arrived at the police station shortly after the accident “he smelt of alcohol and his eyes where glazed.”
However, evidence from Ian Broadhead - the owner of the Swithens Farm - said that on the morning of the tragedy, Mr Green “appeared to be just his normal self”.
He said: “I don’t believe that he was drunk.
“I didn’t get the impression that alcohol was a factor in his demeanour.”
Mr Broadhead added: “Could Gary’s glazed eyes have anything to do with the fact that he had just run the boy over?”
Green gave a reading of 90mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath. The legal drink driving limit is 35mg.
However, under the law, a motorist can only be prosecuted for driving while over the limit if they are on a road that is accessible to the public.
The onus in such incidents is on the prosecuting authority to prove the public have legitimate access.
Because Swithens Farm is classed as private property - and the part of the farm where it happened was not open to the public, Mr Green did not face prosecution.
In 2012, a priest in Normanton was found not guilty of drink driving because the church car park he was in at the time was deemed to be private.
The inquest continues.