Farmer killed by tractor in Devon

A retired aerospace engineer who had gone into farming was fatally crushed after operating a ‘dangerous homemade lever’ that had historically been installed by a previous owner. A jury inquest in Exeter County Hall today, June 13, heard how Philip Taylor, 67, became a part-time farmer after he and his wife moved to farmland in Ashwater, Beaworthy, in 1994.

In May 2021, he bought a used tractor that was between 27 and 34 years old to help with farming tasks and also a mattress topper. The father-of-two had finished sharpening the cutting blades of his tractor in a barn on their farm when he was found deceased by his wife Elizabeth on June 25, 2021.

The inquest heard that the engine tractor was still running and that several emergency services were present, including the fire department. The cause of his death was crushed asphyxiation.

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In a statement, Ms Taylor told how they met when she was 17 and he was 23, and they got married and had two children together. He worked for British Airways and in 1992 they moved to Devon.

Two years later he started farming part time and they kept cows, sheep and horses and also converted two barns into holiday rentals. She recalled that a month before his death he had bought a used John Deere tractor, but when it was delivered it was “not in amazing condition” and not worth the money it was. they had paid.

She said, “I personally thought it was a pile of garbage.”

Describing the shock of Mr Taylor’s sudden death, she said: “I lost the love of my life. It’s unfair that he was taken from me.”

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Forensic examiner Geoffrey Chapman told the inquest how the tractor’s mattress topper was rear-mounted and had two rotating cutting blades which had recently been sharpened.

He explained that a hydraulic lever that operated the defoliator was installed inside the tractor cab and could not be operated from the outside. Because a log had been placed under the defoliator as an added safety measure when sharpening the blades, the time it took for the defoliator to fully raise from bottom to top was 1.9 seconds.

However, the vehicle was fitted with an additional hydraulic short lever, which meant that the mattress topper could be operated from the rear of the vehicle.

Mr Chapman said: ‘It’s not the recommended way to do it and it shouldn’t have been installed.’ He added: “I’ve never seen a lever installed there before.”

He continued: “This modification was installed by someone at some point in the past life of the tractor.”

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Further details on how it was installed were provided by health and safety inspector Simon Jones. He told the inquest that the extra lever was ‘unsafe’ and put the operator in a ‘dangerous position’ and would have required approval from the tractor manufacturer.

He said: “I think it was a home-made adaptation by someone in the past; I don’t think it was bought off the shelf and installed incorrectly.”

He said it was likely Mr Taylor had lowered the mattress topper blades after sharpening them when the ‘unintentional’ incident happened.

He said: “It’s speculation, but more likely than not he meant to lower the tool and moved the lever in the wrong direction.

He added that he had spoken to the farmer who had owned the tractor for 10 years, who said he did not match or had any knowledge of the extra lever.

Mr Jones said: “It looks like there are paint splatters on it which might indicate it’s been there for some time. I’m unable to say how long that lever has been there on the basis of the declaration of the previous farmer.”

The inspector also acknowledged that Mr Taylor was an experienced engineer and farmer, and there were clear signs that he was ‘safety conscious’.

A family spokesperson said: ‘The family strongly believes the tractor was substandard and unsafe when it was sold.’

The jury concluded accidental death.

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