Seat belt could have saved life of estate worker

The all-terrain vehicle after the crash

The co-owner of a sporting and farming estate in the North Yorkshire national park has been prosecuted after a 79-year-old occasional worker died in an overturned all-terrain vehicle on remote moorland.

Retired businessman James Gaffney was driving the utility vehicle down a slope while collecting dead game following one of the regular pheasant shoots on the Urra estate when the vehicle overturned. Mr Gaffney wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and suffered fatal head injuries.

He was found trapped in the vehicle later that day and was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident on 31 October 2013.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and today ( 17 Dec) prosecuted the senior partner and co-owner of the Urra estate, Malcolm John Reeve, at Darlington Magistrates’ court.

HSE’s identified that Mr Reeve was responsible for managing health and safety on the estate. However, they found no one on the estate had bothered to use the seat belt on the all-terrain vehicle as no one had been told they had to.

The court heard that Mr Gaffney, of Hutton Rudby, Stokesley, had retired many years earlier and had worked as a beater on the pheasant shoots for a number of years, including before the present owners took over the multi-acre estate.

He had in more recent years been one of a team with the less arduous role of retrieving the shot game and taking them to the estate cold store. The court was told Mr Gaffney had been paid for his work but also enjoyed it as an unpaid hobby.

HSE said no one had witnessed the incident but it appeared on the available evidence that he had been driving the all-terrain – which had a cab – along a track across a slope when the vehicle turned up the slope and overturned, leaving Mr Gaffney fatally injured and trapped in the cab.

The vehicle itself had no significant defects and Mr Gaffney had used it before.

Malcolm John Reeve, of Cold Moor Cote Farm, Chopgate, Middlesbrough, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £1,681 in costs after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, investigating HSE inspector Julian Franklin said:

“This was a very tragic event that could have so easily been prevented. It is more than likely that use of the seatbelt would have saved Mr Gaffney’s life.

“All terrain vehicles are capable of travelling on very rough and steep ground, but if they do overturn, the driver needs to be retained in the cab. If the vehicle has doors, they should be shut and a seat belt should be used.

“It is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions and freely-available guidance from HSE when using any machinery, including the various types of workplace transport. The precautions necessary are largely common sense but employers or companies must make sure that all workers put them into practice as a matter of routine.”

For a range of advice on farm or machinery safety, visit

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

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