Tractor owner appeals court ruling in case of boy’s death

By Natasha Reid

A Co. Cork farmer and agricultural contractor has appealed a ruling which will allow for a second prosecution against him over the death of a boy who fell from a tractor owned by him.

The High Court had ruled last year that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) could proceed with a prosecution against the farmer over the 14-year-old boy’s death.

The boy fell out through the door of the tractor, which was owned by the farmer/contractor, but driven by an employee. The lock was reportedly broken and the door was apparently being kept shut with plastic cable ties when the accident happened on August 23, 2013.

The owner was convicted under the Road Traffic Act and fined €700 by Mallow District Court in October 2014 for allowing the tractor to be driven when it was a danger to the public.

The tractor owner is challenging a separate prosecution, this time in Cork Circuit Criminal Court under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, on grounds that the tractor was an unsafe place to work. It is an indictable offence, which carries a maximum fine of €3 million and a two-year prison sentence.

The tractor owner claims he should not be prosecuted a second time for what he says is substantially the same offence. He applied for a judicial review of the HSA’s decision but the High Court ruled against him last year. Yesterday, Tuesday, July 14, he appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeal.

His barrister, Elizabeth O’Connell SC, said that Justice Michael Twomey had given too little weight to the “oppression” caused to the farmer and his family by the decision to prosecute for a second time on the same facts.

She said it remained unanswered as to why the Gardaí and the HSA had approached the matter separately. She described as “unjust and arbitrary” the decision to return him to court again.

O’Connell asked the court to set the High Court’s ruling aside and make an order of prohibition against the second prosecution.

Gráinne O’Neill BL responded on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). She said that there was no abuse of process and that the two charges were different in law and in fact.

O’Neill said that such matters could be raised with the trial judge in Cork Circuit Court, who must ensure a fair trial.

Justice John Edwards, presiding with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Aileen Donnelly, reserved judgment in the case.