North Devon tractor death was accidental – coroner
The death of a woman crushed beneath a vintage tractor a year ago was accidental, a coroner has ruled.
Company director Faye Stockwell, 34, died on October 2, 2011, after the vintage Massey Ferguson tractor she was driving rolled backwards down a steep hill, rolled up the bank at the side of the road and turned over, an inquest found.
Miss Stockwell died of traumatic asphyxia, the inquest, at Bideford Town Hall heard.
Farmer Tony Barrable, the owner of the tractor and the partner of Miss Stockwell's mother Kathy, said Miss Stockwell had shown an interest in his hobby of driving vintage tractors and that they had become close over the six years he had been in a relationship with her mother.
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This was how she had come to be driving one of his three vintage tractors, during a South Molton Vintage Rally Club tractor rally on the day of the accident.
Mr Barrable, Miss Stockwell and Mrs Stockwell had headed out from his farm at North Buckland at about 8.30am, with Mr Barrable driving a rare Field Marshall tractor and Miss Stockwell driving one of Mr Barrable's two identical Massey Ferguson T20 tractors.
He told the court they went from his farm to Pilton Park, where they met up with 40 to 50 other tractors before going to West Down for lunch – a trip of about 20 miles.
At no point did Miss Stockwell express any concerns about the way the tractor was running, he said.
They went home at lunchtime but, while heading up North Buckland Hill, which has a 1 in 4.7 gradient, Miss Stockwell is thought to have missed a gear change and lost forward momentum.
The vehicle then rolled backwards and Miss Stockwell and her mother decided it would be best to let the tractor roll into the hedge and come to rest.
But the tractor's rear wheel rolled up the bank and caused it to turn over, throwing Mrs Stockwell from her passenger seat and trapping Miss Stockwell beneath the vehicle.
Mr Barrable, who had been leading the convoy in his tractor, said as he ran to the scene of the crash he couldn't believe what he saw.
"The tractor was lying on its back," he said, "Kathy was hysterical and I was trying to make sense of what had happened.
"I could see Faye was gone. I felt empty as I knew she was dead and there was nothing I could do."
Coroner John Tomalin concluded there had been minor problems with the brakes on the tractor but that this was not directly to blame for Miss Stockwell's death.
He said: "Of the verdicts I can consider, the most appropriate is accidental death. I don't think I need comment further."