Farmer's wife handed suspended sentence after woman dies under half-ton bale of hay at stable
A farmer's wife has been given a suspended jail term after a woman died under a half-ton bale of hay at her stables.
Charlotte Louise Conroy-Taylor was crushed under the bale at the equestrian centre and pony club owned by Carol Hill on the Beaumont Grange Farm run by her husband Stephen near Morecambe, Lancs.
Hay had been provided for horses at the stables in a large hay trough - but this was frequently left empty, Preston Crown Court heard.
Instead it had become common practice for customers to go to the hay stack, five bales high, cut open the black plastic wrapping on the bottom bale, and take hay from there for their horses.
As more hay was taken it lead to the stack becoming dangerously unstable, the court heard.
On May 31, 2011 Mrs Conroy-Taylor, 45, was killed by a bail at the stables where her daughter, Zara, 12, kept her horse, Flash.
The court heard Carol Hill was aware of the practice of taking hay from the bottom bale, but failed to recognise the dangers - with tragic consequences.
Hill, 54, a leading member locally in the Pony Club, admitted at an earlier hearing a single charge under the Health and Safety Act of failing to ensure the safety of persons not in her employment.
Her husband, aged 55, admitted the same charge relating to another hay stack, not involved in the fatal accident, on a different part of the farm.
Passing sentence Judge Anthony Russell QC said: "On the 31st of May, 2011 Charlotte Louise Conroy-Taylor lost her life at the age of 45 in shocking circumstances, witnessed by her 12-year-old daughter.
"The family's loss can't be under-estimated."
Referring to Carol Hill he added: "Having known hay was being taken from the bottom stack she failed to recognise it represented a risk.
"It was a tragically wrong assessment and if proper thought had been applied her conclusions would not have been drawn."
He gave Hill an eight month jail sentence, suspended for two years, with 200 hours unpaid work and ordered her to pay £10,000 in prosecution costs.
Her husband was sentenced to a £2,500 fine and ordered to pay the same amount in prosecution costs.
Earlier Barry Berlin, prosecuting, said the Hills, married for 29 years with two adult sons, ran the farm with Mr Hill taking care of the 450 livestock and his wife running the equestrian centre.
Mr Hill had originally stacked 220 bales at the equestrian centre on the farm, with 38 left when the accident happened.
Mr Berlin said Mr Hill should have taken a bale from the top of a stack so it could be distributed.
And Mrs Hill knew people were carrying on an "unsafe practice" by taking hay from a bottom bale and this made her "highly culpable" he told the court.
Children had also been seen climbing on the bales and taking hay, he said.
If the health and safety regulations had been followed the death would not have occurred, the court heard.
"These failures were systemic and persisted over a considerable period of time," he added.
Mark Saville, defending Carol Hill, whose deceased father was a local farmer, councillor and magistrate, said in mitigation, her passion was horses and the equestrian centre her "life's work".
He said Hill did not appreciate the risks of people taking hay from the bail as they did.
"She got it wrong, and of course we know the consequences of that tragic mistake.
"She is devastated by the loss of life and her appearance before the court today."
Bernard Thorogood, defending Stephen Hill, said his offence was not related to the death of Mrs Conroy-Taylor - and related to the collapse of another stack on another part of the farm after the accident happened.
The court heard the Hills had sold their house in Carnforth for a "substantial sum" to build another home on their farm.
But their lawyers said they were heavily indebted and did not make much money from the farm and riding business so could not pay large fines.
The family of Mrs Conroy-Taylor are understood to be suing the Hills for damages in the civil courts.