Saturday 16 December 2017

'Wonderful' Robert (8) dies in slurry accident helping his dad on farm

Inset, Robert Christie (8), who died in a slurry tank accident on a farm near Dunloy, Co Antrim. Main, the farm and sheds at Dunloy, Co Antrim, where the accident occurred.
Inset, Robert Christie (8), who died in a slurry tank accident on a farm near Dunloy, Co Antrim. Main, the farm and sheds at Dunloy, Co Antrim, where the accident occurred.
Robert Christie in a picture taken some years ago

Joanne Sweeney

Just three days ago, Robert Christie bounded home from school – excited about the weekend ahead.

Now his classmates at Knockahollet Primary School in Dunloy, Co Antrim, are coping with the devastating news that the much-loved eight-year-old will not be returning to school.

Little Robert was found dead on Saturday afternoon after being overcome by slurry fumes while he accompanied his father working on the farm of a family friend.

His father, Bertie, was last night still fighting for his life after also being overcome by the fumes as they mixed slurry on their neighbour's farm.

An investigation into the tragic accident has been launched by the Health and Safety Inspectorate.

The owner of the farm is reported to be Robert Brownlow, and Mr Christie and Robert were understood to have been regular visitors.

Robert and his father were overcome by fumes as he helped his father mix the slurry tank at the dairy farm.

They were discovered by a caller to the farm who raised the alarm.

The emergency services treated them at the scene, before Robert was airlifted to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital and his father rushed to the Causeway Hospital.

Despite the efforts of medical staff, Robert died.

Knockahollet school principal Gerry Black described him as a "wonderful little boy".

"Robert will be sadly missed by the whole school family," he said.

"His death is so very tragic. Robert got along with everyone. There wasn't a day went past when he didn't say hello when he met you around the school."

Robert's two elder sisters, Alice and Isobel, also attend the school, which is within a few minutes drive of the Christie's family home on Knockahollet Road.

The farm on Ballynaloob Road in Dunloy, where Robert was with his father mixing slurry, is also just a few minutes drive from Robert's home.

"We are all really still taking it in, and somehow coming into the school has really brought it home," said Mr Black.

"The events of the weekend will have a huge impact on all the other children, staff and wider Knockahollet area.

"There is a very strong community spirit within our school and it's this that we will be drawing on in the days and weeks ahead as we help Robert's family and all our families try and come to terms with what has happened."

The Christie family home is a typical modest farmhouse, hidden away from the main road, where Robert was first introduced to the farming life.

It was surrounded by cars yesterday as family and friends lent their support to Simone Christie and her daughters as they cope with their tragic loss while also caring for Mr Christie, who was still in Causeway Hospital in Coleraine last night where his condition was said to be "critical".

It was the first slurry-related death on a farm since the 2012 tragedy in which Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham died on the family farm in Hillsborough, Co Down.

The chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive in the North, Keith Morrison, warned last night that farming remained the North's "most dangerous industry".

"Children on farms can be particularly vulnerable and the Health and Safety Executive will continue to work with local schools to raise awareness of the dangers on farms," he said.

Irish Independent

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