11th May, 2021

Farmer admits H&S breaches which led to woman's fatal electrocution

A FARMER has finally admitted being responsible for Health and Safety breaches on his farm which led to a woman being electrocuted in the caravan home she shared with his son.

Trevor Atkin had pleaded not guilty to two charges of contravening Health and Safety regulations at his Willoughby Fields Farm in London Road, Willoughby.

He and his son James Atkin, 43, also pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of James’s partner Deana Simpson who died from electrocution in their caravan home on the farm in August 2017.

But following two days of legal arguments at the end of the prosecution case in their trial at Warwick Crown Court, Trevor Atkin’s barrister asked for the Health and Safety charges to be put to him again.

Trevor, 72, then entered guilty pleas to those charges, which specified that he had failed to properly maintain the electrical supply to the caravan, creating a danger, and had failed to ensure the safety of a person other than an employee.

Accepting those pleas, prosecutor Michael Burrows QC said he would offer no further evidence against him on the manslaughter allegation – so Judge Sylvia de Bertodano formally entered a not guilty verdict on that charge.

Trevor Atkin will be sentenced at the end of the trial, which continues on the manslaughter charge against James Atkin, who the jury was told would not be giving evidence.

The case follows the death of 40-year-old Deana as she was preparing food for a barbeque in the caravan at Willoughby Fields Farm, where she lived with James, who remains accused of her manslaughter by gross negligence.

Mr Burrows said Deana began a relationship with James about five-and-a-half years before her death, but it was a stormy relationship because they were both heavy drinkers.

They lived at the farm in a caravan with a gas cooker but electrical lighting and appliances including a dishwasher.

The power was generated off-grid, mainly by an unreliable petrol generator, which James sometimes asked Deana’s father Errol Williams, who worked as a maintenance fitter at the farm, to fix.

There was also a larger generator, a tractor unit which worked on diesel, to power things around the farm.

James would use it when the small generator had packed up – but Trevor was not happy about that because it cost a lot to run, and using it for the caravan meant it was running all night.

So in 2017 James carried out work intended to improve the supply to the caravan by storing electricity from the large generator in batteries during the day to use at night.

That involved installing an inverter to convert the AC power from the generator to DC current in the batteries and then back to AC for use in the caravan.

Mr Burrows said installing such equipment was ‘not work for someone who is not qualified,’ and certainly not for someone like James with a drink problem.

At the time James was in the habit of drinking neat spirits or strong beer every day – getting the shakes when he had not had a drink, and sometimes drinking before work to stop them.

On the day before Deana’s death, he had turned up for work drunk, and left early to continue working on the electrical supply to the caravan with a bottle of beer in his hand.

On Saturday the 26th another man who worked on the farm joined James and Deana at their home for a drink, and they decided to have a barbeque that evening.

At 6.15pm the man was in the kitchen where Deana was preparing the food when she suddenly dropped to the floor.

At first he thought she had drunk too much, but she was not moving, so he went to tell James who came back to the caravan where took a picture of her, thinking she was playing a joke.

But James then touched the cooker and was ‘knocked back by the shock’ – and they realised she had been electrocuted, and he told the other man to call 999.

Paramedics arrived, but despite their efforts and that of a doctor who arrived in the air ambulance, they were unable to revive her – and the cause of death was found to be electrocution.

An electrical expert who checked James’s work found the wiring to be in a poor and dangerous condition, with RCD safety devices bypassed or removed, said Mr Burrows. The trial continues.

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