Slyne hay bale death: Bolton-le-Sands couple plead guilty

Beaumont Grange Farm where the tragic accident happened.
Beaumont Grange Farm where the tragic accident happened.

The owners of a Slyne farm on which a woman was killed by a falling hay bale have admitted health and safety breaches.

Carol Hill, 54, and Stephen Hill, 55, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of people at Beaumont Grange Farm Equitation Centre.

On May 31, 2011, Charlotte Louise Conroy-Taylor, 45, died from multiple injuries when a bale fell on her as she helped her daughter Zara, now 13, care for her pony, Flash.

Carol Hill pleaded guilty to failing in her undertaking as an employer to ensure people not in her employment, including Mrs Conroy-Taylor, were not exposed to risk relating to the storage of hay.

Her husband, Stephen Hill, pleaded guilty to similar offences in his capacity as a self-employed person.

Mrs Conroy-Taylor and her daughter had visited the farm after school.

Zara began mucking out Flash while her mother went to collect hay for the horse.

Minutes later, Zara heard a scream and found her mother lying on the ground.

A consultant pathologist at Morecambe Bay University Hospitals Trust told an inquest that Mrs Conroy-Taylor was found unconscious with a hay bale on her ankles and another bale nearby.

An ambulance was called and attempts were made to resuscitate her in the ambulance and at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, where she died as a result of her injuries.

Dr Nicholas Mapstone said he believed the hay bale had fallen from around five metres and weighed around 1,000kg.

The Hills, of Coastal Road, Bolton-le-Sands, will return to Preston Crown Court on December 4 to be sentenced.

They face a possible jail sentence of up to two years or an unlimited fine.

Judge Stuart Baker granted them bail but told them: “That, of course, is not any indication as to what the sentence will be.”

He offered his condolences to the family of Mrs Conroy-Taylor.

In a statement released through Lancaster City Council, Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s parents said: “Our daughter, Charlotte Conroy-Taylor, was killed by a bale falling from an insecure stack at Beaumont Grange Farm on 31 May 2011.

“Charlotte’s death has caused us much grief and heartache and we miss her deeply.

“Charlotte’s daughter, Zara, was twelve-years-old at the time of the accident and was with her mother when it occurred.

“She is distraught by the loss of her mother and continues to suffer much pain and anguish.

“We now know that Charlotte’s death was due to negligence by the owner of the stables, Mrs Carol Hill.

“We think that Mrs Hill should now resign her position as chief instructor of the Lancaster branch of the Pony Club following her admission of guilt.

“Given the facts that came out at the inquest into our daughter’s death last year, we think that Mrs Hill should have resigned her position as chief instructor immediately after the inquest.

“We sincerely hope that Charlotte’s tragic and unnecessary death will serve as a warning to owners of all other equitation centres to take full responsibility for the safety of their clients.

“Members of the public deserve far greater protection than was the case for our daughter at Beaumont Grange Farm, where there was a complete disregard for safety.

“We believe that the national Pony Club should be much more proactive in ensuring that all affiliated establishments provide a safe environment for their members.

“Any guidance they currently offer has clearly been neglected at Beaumont Grange Farm.

“All our family are devastated by Charlotte’s tragic death and this loss will remain with us forever.”

Coun Karen Leytham, Lancaster City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for environmental health, said: “This case is a reminder to all business owners of the duty of care they owe and the tragic consequences that can arise if they ignore their obligations.

“It is vital that health and safety risks are identified and dealt with properly, which often involves simple steps so that tragic failings and serious consequences simply can’t happen.

“Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s death could easily have been avoided if the proper precautions had been in place and I hope other business owners sit up and take note.

“Our message to other businesses is while there are plenty of public myths about health and safety, employers and other legal duty holders need to know their obligations and know how to be sure they have fulfilled them.

“Lancaster City Council will not hesitate to prosecute business owners who fail to ensure that sufficient measures are put in place to protect health and safety on their premises.”