Rugby star, his brother and father die in slurry


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The Independent Online

A rugby player tipped as a future international star has died alongside his father and brother after what was thought to have been an attempt to save a pet dog from a slurry tank.

Two senior investigators from the Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland (HSENI) were yesterday probing the deaths of Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, his brother Graham, 30, and father Noel, 52, at the family farm near Hillsborough, County Down, on Saturday evening.

According to reports a family dog fell into the tank before Noel attempted to retrieve it. His sons subsequently tried to rescue their father but were overcome by the poisonous gases.

Two of the men were declared dead at the scene, while a third was taken to hospital, but died shortly afterwards.

Mr Nevin, 22, had recently represented Ireland for the first time, but despite his flourishing rugby career continued to work on the farm and recently became a brand ambassador for the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland.

His sister, Emma, remained in a stable condition in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast yesterday after also entering the slurry tank and being treated for fume inhalation.

The HSENI said the three deaths were caused by exposure to slurry gases. The combination of cow manure and water is often stored in underground tanks on farms before being spread onto fields as fertiliser.

Gases present in the tanks include methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and hydrogen sulphide. Farmers are warned against entering a slurry tank without an independent air supply and lifeline attached.

"On behalf of all our members, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family involved," said Harry Sinclair, the president of the Ulster Farmers' Union.