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Jury hears rock musician died in freak incident

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 09, 2012


A founder member of the rock group Electric Light Orchestra was killed in a freak accident when a half-tonne hay bale rolled down a steep field onto his vehicle, a jury was told.

Mike Edwards, 62, was a cellist with the 1970s ELO band, and was killed in September 2010 when the bale, of either hay or silage, rolled down the grass field, through a wire fence and thin hedge into the path of his van as he drove along a busy A road near Halwell in Devon. Yesterday, the farmer and an agricultural contractor both went on trial, each charged with two health-and-safety offences, which they both deny.

As the case began at Plymouth Crown Court, trial judge Paul Darlow told the jury: "The deceased person driving the van was someone who was, certainly to some of us of a certain generation, quite a well-known musician."

Prosecutor Rupert Lowe told the jury: "The case arises out of a fatal accident which took place two years ago in September 2010. It was September 3 just before lunchtime when a man called Mike Edwards was driving along the A381 near Halwell in Devon when a large round bale of hay weighing half a tonne burst through a hedge near where he was driving and crashed on to the roof of his car (van). He was crushed and killed in the impact and was declared dead at the scene.

"It was a most dreadful farming accident. It could have been any member of the public but he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Mr Lowe said the defendants – farmer Brian Burden, then 44, and agricultural contractor Russell Williams, then 21 – did not deliberately cause his death or they would have been charged with murder or manslaughter.

"This was a farming accident. But it was one which was preventable, easily preventable. The two men in the dock are charged with offences over the way they carried out their work."

He said anyone running a business should not put members of the public at risk of injury or death as they carry out their work. He said the bale, which was "extremely heavy" weighing between 400 and 600kg or half a tonne, rolled down the steep grass hill in Long Lands field on to the busy A381 road "where people drive past all the time". Mr Lowe said: "If they decide to roll down a significant slope there is simply no stopping them."

He said the risk of bales rolling down the slope would have "obvious consequences".

The court heard Williams, now 23, of Blackawton, Devon, was a self-employed contractor who was paid by the bale to do the work of baling up the cut grass for silage on Burden's farm. Burden, of Halwell, Devon, was an experienced farmer who used to do the job himself in the same field for many years before contracting it out to Williams some years before.

Mr Lowe stressed to the jury: "They are both decent, hard-working men who you would never expect to be in a court like this."

Mr Lowe said the bales were around 5ft tall and even wider. Williams had been baling the day before the tragedy but suffered a puncture and had to finish the job the next day – when Burden was not around to help and a farmhand took over from him.

Williams told investigators he left the bale "half way down the field" on a clear, dry day.

The jury was shown TV images of how a baler works and then the steep field where the bale rolled down.

Mr Lowe said: "You can just see how steep it is going down to that main road. Russell Williams told investigators he put the offending bale somewhere half way down the field, that is the bale that landed on the unfortunate Mike Edwards."

Burden and Williams both deny failing to discharge their duty and a second count of contravening a health-and-safety regulation.

Their trial continues.

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