Farming partnership hit with fine after tractor driver was killed in crash

Cambridge Crown Court

Cambridge Crown Court - Credit: Archant

A farming partnership has been fined £400,000 following the death of an agricultural worker whose tractor and trailer crashed into a bridge on the A1 at Alconbury.

Talented Harry Christian-Allan, 19, was driving the tractor and trailer combination which had defective brakes when the vehicle crashed in August 2014.

GW Topham and Son, of Eltisley, had been convicted of two health and safety at work offences after a trial at Cambridge Crown Court.

The firm, which farms in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, had denied the offences and was also ordered to pay £67,274.12 in prosecution costs.

Judge Stuart Bridge said he hoped the sentence would bring home the need to comply with health and safety legislation.

He said the firm had shown a “cavalier attitude” towards the maintenance of its trailers.

Judge Bridge said an element of “cost-cutting” had taken place adding: “it is quite clear to me there was under-investment in the vehicle maintenance regime”.

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Neither father William Topham nor son George were present in court.

Judge Bridge said: “For myself, I have found the partnership’s lack of humility quite staggering.”

The judge rated the firm’s responsibility for the incident to be at the highest level.

Harry, a law student, was carrying out casual farm work during the harvest and had been told to transport the trailer load of grain from the partnership’s base at Eltisley to another one of its farms at Alconbury when the incident happened.

Andrew McGee, prosecuting, said there had been a high level of culpability from the partnership because of the poor level of maintenance of the trailers.

Mr McGee said the intensive use of the tractor and trailer during the harvest had contributed to the likelihood of an accident.

The court heard that the trailer’s brakes did not work properly and that the parking brake was also faulty, and the tractor’s brakes were insufficient to stop the trailer which weighed four times as much.

Mr McGee said: “The bottom line is that this was a fundamentally dangerous vehicle that was being used intensively during that period.”

Louis French, mitigating, said the partnership was of previous good character which was well-run and well-regarded. Other employees had described the firm as being “head and shoulders above other farms in the area” and that if any maintenance needed doing it was done.

Mr French said there had been no cost-cutting involved. He said there had been an “unfortunate combination” of the tractor and trailer and that the tractor had been in “excellent condition”.

He said Mr Topham senior had not been in court because he was recovering from surgery and that his son was also suffering ill-health.