Farmer denies charges over teenager's quad bike death
A FARMER has gone on trial more than five years after a teenage apprentice was killed in a quad bike crash.
Philip Coaker is accused of breaching health and safety regulations relating to the June 2007 tragedy.
Young Phillip Nyhan died after a head-on smash while working on Coaker's Dartmoor farm.
The 17-year-old was riding on a narrow country lane when he collided with another vehicle and was thrown from the machine.
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Mr Nyhan, from Wotter, was not wearing a helmet – and died from severe head injuries.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has brought the prosecution, says Coaker failed in his duty as an employer to take all measures not to expose persons, including Mr Nyhan, to risks to their health and safety through the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), commonly known as quad bikes.
The 50-year-old, from Widecombe-in-the-Moor, denies the allegation.
Opening the trial at Plymouth Crown Court yesterday, HSE prosecutor Ian Dixey said Coaker was one of six directors of Moor Skills Farming Project Limited, a company set up by a group of moorland farmers to train young apprentices in the "unique farming skills" needed on Dartmoor.
Four apprentices, including Mr Nyhan, began the 20-month training programme in 2006.
The court heard the teenager had completed a formal quad bike training course in October that year, which had explained how safety equipment such as helmets must be worn when using the machines.
Mr Dixey told the court how Mr Nyhan was riding on the C231 between Runnage Farm and Postbridge at around 1.30pm on June 7, 2007 when the crash happened.
The teenager was not wearing a crash helmet, Mr Dixey said.
The court heard how more than half of the UK's quad bike users had fallen from their vehicles in the last five years.
The jury of nine men and three women was shown an HSE safety video which detailed the range of safety measures and checks that should be carried out before riding an ATV – including wearing a helmet.
Mr Dixey said Coaker had provided a quad bike for Mr Nyhan, and that there was a helmet available to him.
But he told the court that Coaker had regularly seen the teen riding without one and had not "insisted" that he did so.
And he added that the experienced farmer would himself ride without a helmet.
"When Philip Coaker was interviewed after the accident had taken place he said when he had seen Phillip Nyhan on the quad bike, on the majority of occasions Phillip Nyhan wasn't wearing a helmet," Mr Dixey said.
"He said he would remind him to wear one but at no time did he insist that he wasn't allowed to use the machine if he wasn't wearing one.
"He said he didn't wear one himself and neither, apparently, did the farm workers.
"If you're looking after an apprentice you not only have a duty to tell them what to do but also to set an example.
"He didn't set an example by using one himself, or by insisting Phillip Nyhan wore one."
Mr Dixey also told the court two people had received "instructions from the defendant that made them think that the wearing of helmets was a matter of choice".
He told the jury: "This is not about the circumstances of the accident – this is about the overall duty to ensure the health and safety of not just Phillip Nyhan but the other apprentices as well, because they were working there [at Runnage Farm].
"It was a very simple thing indeed to insist that a helmet should be worn and to set an example by wearing one yourself."
He added that Coaker had been "deeply affected" by the accident.
"In many ways this is a prosecution that is brought more in sorrow than in anger," Mr Dixey said.
The court heard how Mr Nyhan had been described as a "dedicated young man".
Witness Christopher Shepherd, training agency practitioner manager at the Cornwall College Group, of which Duchy College is part, said the teenager and three other youngsters had been selected from around 15 applicants.
The trial continues.