Suspended sentence for fireman over deadly stampede

A fireman who provoked a herd of cows to stampede and crush a farmer, by driving towards them with his engine's lights flashing and its siren blaring, has been given a four-month suspended prison sentence and banned from driving for 12 months.

Julian Lawford of the Devon and Somerset Fire Service was found to have caused the death of Harold Lee, 75, by dangerous driving.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Lawford had been responding to an emergency call in August 2009, where a seven-year-old child had become trapped in a car following a road accident, when his vehicle was stopped in its tracks by Mr Lee's group of dairy cows on a country road in Burtle, Somerset.

The farmer was on a quad bike at the back of his herd, which numbered between 100 and 150 animals, moving them from a field to their milking parlour. Mr Lee's son, Richard, was in front of them on a bicycle.

Initially Lawford turned off his vehicle's lights and siren before trying to reverse to find an alternative route. However, his efforts to avoid the herd did not work and he was soon stuck behind them again. This time he opted to switch on his engine's lights and siren and drive through the animals.

Mr Lee frantically waved his arms, trying to encourage the animals to move forward, but was unable to get out of the way of the stampeding cattle and was trampled. He was found with blood gushing from a wound to his head and with stamp marks across his body, and died from his injuries in Bristol's Frenchay Hospital six days later.

In their fright, the startled animals even ran over the top of a car. Prosecuting barrister David Morgan said Jenny Holloway, a learner driver who witnessed the incident, "thought the cows would go around her vehicle. In fact they went over the top and the hoof of one of the beasts went through the windscreen before falling into the road."

Lawford was originally charged with manslaughter by gross negligence, but this was reduced after he admitted a lesser charge shortly before his trial last month. Passing sentence, Mr Justice Roderick Evans said the fireman's decision to try to drive through the herd "frankly defies common sense".

"It must have been obvious to you that you couldn't drive through but that is what you tried to do," he said. "There is some evidence you sounded your klaxon horn, but you deny that. That decision to drive forward through that herd was a fatal error of judgment which has had a profound effect upon two decent hard working families, the Lee family and yours."

Richard Smith, QC, defending, said: "The effect on [Lawford] privately has been immense and profound and that is a burden that he will have to bear. He was trying to do the right thing but he got it wrong this time."

Mr Lee is one of a number of people who have been killed or injured by charging cows in recent years. A 63-year-old woman died while walking her dog through a field of cattle in July 2009, while the former Home Secretary David Blunkett suffered a broken rib during a similar incident a month earlier.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'