NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

'Dog link' to farmer Harry Emslie's 'freak' death

Harry Emslie
Image caption Farmer Harry Emslie was a well-known cattle breeder and show judge

A Scottish farmer could have died in a "freak" accident after his dog pushed a lever in his tractor, a fatal accident inquiry has heard.

Harry Emslie, 67, died after the bucket loader of his tractor pinned him against the wall of a barn at his Mintlaw farm in 2008.

The accident is thought to have happened near his Brae of Cynach home on 8 June.

His body was discovered by his daughter and her partner the following morning.

The couple had travelled to the Aberdeenshire farm for a pre-arranged business meeting and went outside to look for Mr Emslie when there was no sign of him at the house.

They found him lying on the ground fatally injured with chest and abdominal injuries. His collie dog was sitting in the cab of the red Manitou farm vehicle.

The farmer is believed to have been digging up animal feed with his loader and got out of the tractor to pick the last of it up with a hand shovel.

Noise of machinery

Giving evidence, Grampian Police sergeant Colin Houston said he was called out to attend the scene with his colleagues.

He said: "We were shown round to a large shed. There was a tractor there and Mr Emslie was pinned against the wall by the tractor."

The inquiry heard the tractor ignition was still on and the vehicle was left in third gear with the handbrake off.

The drive lever was in forward position and the tractor had run out of diesel.

Fiscal depute Alasdair Fay asked: "What did you make of that?"

Sergeant Houston replied: "Our conclusion from that would be that the vehicle had obviously moved forward and pinned Mr Emslie against the wall of the shed."

The police officer said the farmer's son-in-law had informed him that he had discovered the dog in the cab of the tractor when he had arrived and had let it out.

He said it was highly unlikely that Mr Emslie could have set the vehicle on himself and there was no evidence of suicide.

Mr Fay asked: "Can you tell us what was the most likely cause?"

He replied: "He has got out the vehicle, not set the handbrake, left the dog in the cab which has leaned forward."

The inquiry at Peterhead Sheriff Court heard that a neighbour heard the noise of machinery coming from the farm the night before but no-one had witnessed the accident.

'Extremely unsafe'

Former health and safety inspector Harris Cooper said it was likely that the vehicle had been "under stress" due to leaked oil discovered under the vehicle.

He said the forward drive lever could have been in that position for a long period of time pushing the tractor against the wall of the barn. It's thought that the machine eventually stopped when it ran out of diesel.

Mr Cooper said Mr Emslie's working methods had been "extremely unsafe" for the task he was carrying out.

He said the tractor should have been parked parallel to the barn with the handbrake on and the gear in neutral.

He added that it would also have been safer to turn the engine off and the dog should never have been left in the cab unsupervised.

Fiscal depute Alasdair Fay described the tragedy as an "extraordinary" accident.

He added: "This was a most unusual incident and clearly a very distressing experience for all friends, family and acquaintances of the deceased."

'Number of oversights'

Lawyer David Gibbs, who was representing the family, said relatives had taken no issue with the evidence that was going to be led at the inquiry.

He said Mr Emslie had been working on his own on the 650 acre farm for some time and described the circumstances of the accident as "somewhat freakish".

He said: "The deceased was well used to lone working. He seems to have worked all his life and his life was his work.

"The fact that this death appears to have been caused by a number of oversights on the part of the deceased is of no solace.

"The fact the deceased's dog appears to have been in the cab being the only explanation for the lever being pushed forward again is of no great solace to the deceased's family."

Sheriff William Summers adjourned the inquiry until January so he could prepare his determination.

Mr Emslie was a champion cattle breeder and show judge.

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