Hay bale death: Pony Club backs Slyne centre owner amid resign calls

Charlotte Conroy-Taylor
Charlotte Conroy-Taylor
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The UK Pony Club has backed the chief instructor of its Lancaster branch despite calls for her to resign after she admitted safety failings over a woman’s death at her equestrian centre.

Charlotte Conroy-Taylor, 45, was killed after a one-ton bale from a dangerously-stored hay stack fell onto her at Beaumont Grange Farm Equitation Centre, Slyne, in May 2011 as she helped her daughter Zara, then 12, tend to her pony, Flash.

Beaumont Grange Farm where the tragic accident happened.

Beaumont Grange Farm where the tragic accident happened.

Owners Carol Hill, 54, and Stephen Hill, 55, of Coastal Road, Bolton-le-Sands, this week pleaded guilty to one health and safety charge each over the tragedy.

The couple’s admission led to Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s grieving relatives to call for Mrs Hill’s resignation from the Pony Club.

When contacted by the Guardian, Mrs Hill declined to comment, but the club - which has 600 UK branches - came out in support of her and said it had “no concerns” about the centre or Mrs Hill.

Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s parents Jim and Lynette Conroy-Taylor, both 71, of Brookhouse, Lancaster, who now look after 14-year-old Zara, said:

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

“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.”

Ian Conroy-Taylor, 43, of Brookhouse, Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s husband of five years, said the ‘entirely avoidable’ tragedy had ‘totally devastated’ his life.

“In my opinion, Carol Hill’s continued presence at the Pony Club will further damage its reputation, integrity and character,” he said.

“Charlotte was respected and loved by all who knew her. She will be never be forgotten.”

In a statement, the Pony Club offered its condolences to the Conroy-Taylor family, but added: “The Pony Club have had nothing but assurance that Beaumont Grange is an outstanding example of a Pony Club Centre, in terms of tuition, risk assessments and safety measurements for Pony Club based activities, from our associates in Lancashire.

“We have, however, undertaken an independent risk assessment of Beaumont Grange in regard to the establishment being used for Pony Club Centre Membership activities and there was nothing of concern noted in this independent assessment.”

Mrs Conroy-Taylor, who worked in the criminal justice service for Lancashire County Council, died on May 31, 2011, after visiting the farm with Zara.

Zara began mucking out Flash while her mother went to collect hay for the horse but, minutes later, the youngster heard a scream and found her mother lying on the ground unconscious with a hay bale on her ankles and another bale nearby.

She was rushed to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary with multiple injuries where she died.

Revealing how the impact of her daughter’s death was still deeply felt, Mrs Conroy-Taylor said: “When something like this happens, you can’t make sense of it. The words to describe it just don’t come. You would never believe it would be so difficult.

“For us to think of Zara not having her mother for the rest of her life is a big, big thing.

“When you are a close family and part of it is taken away you understand what tragedy is.”

An inquest into Mrs Conroy-Taylor’s death last year heard the hay stack was ‘precariously balanced’.

Lancaster City Council launched a prosecution after the hearing.

Coun Karen Leytham, cabinet member for environmental health, said the tragedy could easily have been prevented and the case was a warning to all business owners.

The Hills will be sentenced on December 4 at Preston Crown Court, where they face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine.