Inquest told how teenager lost control of tractor on hill moments before crash

The scene of the crash at Alconbury. Picture:

The scene of the crash at Alconbury. Picture: - Credit: Archant

A tractor driver would not have died “if the trailer he had been towing was adequately maintained”, an inquest concluded.

That was the view of a jury who determined that Harry Christian-Allan died after crashing into a bridge in Alconbury because “he was unable to slow down and collided with the wall”.

An inquest, held at Peterborough Town Hall, on Thursday (November 12), heard that the 19-year-old crashed into the A1 flyover bridge on the B1043 at the junction with Rusts Lane on August 1, 2014.

Mr Christian-Allan, who was working for St Neots firm GW Topham at the time, suffered multiple injuries in the crash and died in hospital.

Witness Richard Steiner had been following Mr Christian-Allan along the B1043 and didn’t notice any problems until they were approaching a hill.

Mr Steiner said: “As soon as the tractor and trailer started to go down hill it got a bit out of control, the trailer started moving side to side.

“It looked like the driver was then trying to control his vehicle but then the moving became larger, crossing from near side to cross the other line. At the roundabout the tractor and trailer approached and were out of control.”

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Mr Steiner, who was driving a Mazda, described how the trailer had tipped on the roundabout as its back wheels clipped the curb and grain had split onto the road before Mr Christian-Allan managed to get the trailer under control.

In a statement read on behalf of Paul Steiner, who was following his son Richard on the day of the accident, it was said that Mr Christian-Allan “was going much too fast as he approached the junction.

“We watched as he moved across the roundabout quickly and crashed into the wall of the bridge.”

In a statement another witness, Michael Winterburn, said that he saw the “tractor climb up the walls of the bridge with all four wheels touching the bridge.

“I thought the tractor was going to catch fire and wanted to help the driver but the engine was smoking.”

The jury was told that those who tried to free Mr Christian-Allan were met with obstacles and couldn’t get to him.

A statement from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service fireman, Jeremy Corney said: “The tractor was leaning almost on its right side. I was aware there was a person trapped in the cab of the tractor; I believed the tractor driver was dead.”

The decision was made to try and cut the doors of the cab in an attempt to free Mr Christian-Allan.

The 19-year-old was then taken to Addenbrookes Hospital, in Cambridge, where he died later that day.

On the day of the incident, Mr Christian-Allan, who had been working for GW Topham in St Neots for around a month, had been told to deliver grain to Weybridge Farm, in Alconbury.

But, before he left, he had trouble connecting the trailer to his tractor and was helped by colleague and farm worker Jesse Smith.

Mr Smith told the inquest: “The tractor would not accept the line from the trailer. I told him to tell John (farm manager) about the problem so he could get it fixed.”

After the accident, vehicle examiner Martin Key inspected both the trailer and tractor to determine whether there were any issues.

Mr Key found that the breaks on the trailer “were inadequately adjusted which meant that they were insufficient”.

Forensic collision investigator James Thorne, who attended the scene of the incident, said: “There were no deficiencies with the tractor. The trailer had incorrectly adjusted breaks but it is unlikely the ineffective brakes were a contributing factor.

“He could have had a too heavy trailer and been unable to slow down however the driver may have misjudged and was travelling at too great a speed.”

GW Topham’s farm manager Jonathan Page was questioned at the hearing about the brakes by assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough David Morris to determine whether they were working when Mr Christian-Allan left the farm.

Mr Page said: “Part of my instructions for staff was to always check brakes on the tractor and trailer to see if the lights are working.

“We have CCTCV from the farm that shows that the brake lights were working when Harry left the yard.”

Since the accident, GW Topham has replaced all of its trailers to brand new models.

The court heard how Mr Christian-Allan, from Sandy Road, Everton, had grown up with a farming family and had been driving tractors since a young age and was involved in the Bedford Young Farmers’ Club.

In a statement from his mum, Jane Gurney she said: “Harry was a careful, safe and confident driver.

“If there was an issue involving the machinery though he would get someone experienced to come in.”

Mr Morris reiterated to the jury that Mr Christian-Allan was not skilled at engineering so would not be able to fix machinery himself.

Mr Morris described Mr Christian-Allan’s cause of death as hypoxic ischemic brain injury and multiple traumatic injuries and record a narrative conclusion.

The Health and Safety Executive is currently investigating GW Topham and the circumstances surrounding the incident.