Misadventure ruling over farmer’s death

Jurors have returned a verdict of misadventure in the case of a Belper farmer who tragically died while working on his property.

A hearing at Southern Derbyshire Coroner’s Court was told how Harold Hitchcock was found by his daughter after fracturing his spine at Slades Farm, Whitewells Lane on January 3.

The 64-year-old was cutting the string on a bale of hay when he over-balanced and fell around eight feet into a large concrete-style mixer used for preparing cattle feed.

The hearing, which was attended by officials from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), was told Mr Hitchcock would usually risk carrying out the procedure at height to save time.

The hard-working beef farmer – who had not taken a holiday since 1981 – had not turned the machine on when the accident occurred.

Daughter Susan Hitchcock told the hearing: “I put the bale in, my father had gone up the steps and that was the last I saw of him.

“I turned round and my father had gone off the ladder. I shouted and there was no answer, I shouted again and went up the ladder.

“I saw my dad underneath this corkscrew thing that cuts the bales.

“He was curled up. I got in straight away. I got a mobile and rang my mother.”

Dr Andrew Hitchcock, consultant pathologist, said there was “very extensive bruising” to Mr Hitchcock’s scalp and that he had suffered a spinal fracture, which had led to fatal compression of his spinal cord.

Elizabeth Madeley from the HSE told the hearing that the manufacturer of the cattle feed mixer would expect that the bales should be cut at ground level.

Miss Hitchcock said that her father, who was born in Belper, used the machine about 10 to 12 times a week.

She told the hearing she was around 20 or 30 yards away from her father and had only turned her back from him for up to one minute when the accident took place.

She continued at the hearing on Wednesday: “My dad never wanted to cut them on the floor, it was windy and wet and it would blow everywhere.

“The last thing he said was,‘I’m going to have a job to reach this string’.

“My dad was the sort of person – he could do it but no-one else could do it.”

Back in January Mr Hitchcock’s family told the Belper News he combined working on the farm with driving cattle around.

He was due to retire from the lorry driving, which he had done for more than 40 years, in May, they had said.

Paul and Stephen are Harold’s two sons. His wife, Carol, to whom he had been married for more than 31 years and friend John Tyers joined daughter Susan at the Allestree inquest.

Harold, who was due to turn 65 in May, also leaves behind two grandchildren, Isabel, and Henry.

The family said they had received more than 120 sympathy cards as he was so well known and popular, which were dotted around the kitchen at the family farm following his death.

Slades Farm has been in Mr Hitchcock’s family for more than 80 years.