Cumbrian woman awarded over £250k for trampling by cows

16 August, 2009
Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Scanning through some websites earlier today, I was delighted to see that a woman has been awarded an interim payment of £250k for massive injuries she sustained in 2003, when she was trampled almost to death by a herd of cows in a field near her home in Penrith. I hope this will cause the farming community, and walkers’ representative bodies, to take a long, hard look at the very real dangers to walkers–either with or without dogs–presented by cows–either with or without calves–in fields containing public footpaths.

There’s an article in the North-West Evening Mail here, and another from The Telegraph here.

Miss McKaskie, who had been walking with her dog on a public footpath, was tossed around by a herd of Simmental-cross cows, each of which apparently weighs approximately half a tonne. She needed emergency brain surgery, and was also left with a broken arm and ribs.

A judge at Preston County Court found that the farmer had been negligent in failing to erect any sort of warning to walkers to alert them that the field contained cows with calves. It was also found that he’d failed to mark the line of the footpath, making it difficult for walkers to know precisely where to go. The report states that the farmer is planning an appeal.

It’s important to note that this decision doesn’t establish that farmers mustn’t graze cows in fields through which public footpaths pass. Clearly farmers have a living to make, and their livestock must have somewhere to graze. What it does recognise, though, is that cows with calves do represent a danger to walkers, and that farmers therefore have a duty to take reasonable care for the safety of members of the public passing legitimately across land on which they’ve chosen to graze their stock. According to the report the judge concluded that the farmer could reasonably have been expected to post a warning, and in failing to do so he acted negligently, as a result of which Miss McKaskie suffered devastating injuries.

I’d be very interested to see a copy of the whole judgement, because it’s not clear from the reports referenced above precisely how Miss McKaskie’s case was put. The North West Evening Mail report states that the judge concluded that a warning should have been given, but I’d love to know whether it was suggested that the farmer should actually have gone even further than that: for instance, by fencing off a narrow path around the edge of the field, or even in choosing to put the cattle in a different field if, in fact, he had such a field available. Had I been arguing the case (in my former life as a lawyer) then those are arguments I’d certainly have considered raising.

If the case does get to the Court of Appeal then it’ll be very interesting to see what the judges there make of it. For what it’s worth, it does seem crystal clear to me as a matter of the simplest common sense that cows represent a significant hazard, and that farmers owe a duty of care to those traversing public footpaths across their land.

What a farmer needs to do in order to discharge that duty of care should depend upon all the circumstances of the particular case, including such factors as the availabiity of alternative fields for grazing, the ease with which it would be possible to fence off part of the field through which the footpath passes, and the cost involved in doing so, and the degree of risk presented by the livestock in question. At the very least, it seems to me that clear warnings should be posted at entry points when cows are present in fields, and taken down when the cows have been moved. This sort of thing…

Old and redundant sign

Old and redundant sign

…doesn’t cut the mustard. There were no cows in that field, and nor were there last time I saw it. If signs aren’t current then people will naturally learn not to rely upon them.

As walkers, I feel that we should all be breathing just a little easier if this judgement stands, because finally it’s going to be necessary for some thought to be given to how best to strike the necessary compromise between the rights and needs of farmers and those of walkers on public footpaths. Sad, isn’t it–albeit predictable–that it’s likely to be significant financial damage to an insurance company that finally kicks this debate into gear, rather than the regular deaths and injuries caused by cows to walkers on public footpaths?

Anyway… this whole issue of public footpaths running through fields containing cows is something I’ve been concerned about for years, now. My mother, who was brought up on farms in Ireland, taught me as a toddler not to be afraid of cows, but as I grew older and started walking alone I realised that had been bad advice. (I now wonder whether she was trying to get me killed…) Indeed, a few years ago one of my cousins took me through a field in Ireland containing a group of bullocks, and when we got back to the house his father (i.e. my uncle–a dairy farmer) was very annoyed with him, pointing out that they’re bloody dangerous.

Lots of the reports that get into the papers concerning walkers chased by cows refer to the presence of dogs, but it’s not necessary for dogs to be present for cows to constitute a menace. I’ve been threatened and/or chased by bullocks on a number of occasions, and these days I’m very reluctant indeed to pass them in the same field. I’ve taken many detours involving a lot of barbed wire and precipitous ascents/descents of rickety fences and dry-stone walls over the years. It’s all very well for people to say bullocks are simply curious, but their motivation is largely irrelevant when they weigh as much as a small car.

Cow-confident people also say that it’s easy to move them on by waving a stick and/or shouting and/or assuming a confident and commanding demeanour and/or mouthing warm endearments like “Cush cush, Daisy m’dear!”, but I’ve found that none of those tactics works with determined knots of malignant bullocks. Maybe they detect my fear, but that’s not something I can do anything about. Those pesky little fear pheromones are impossible to control.

On the Dales Way last week I was very anxious about encountering cows, because for the first time I was going to be walking with a dog. I read up on all the dog v. cow advice I could find before I collected my puppy in January, so I knew that The Word is to let the dog off the lead if cows become aggressive and start to approach.

The first cows we encountered were hanging around in fields just outside Grassington. I was very nervous, and I decided to pick Piglet up and tuck her under my arm, in the hope that the cows mightn’t spot her, or might possibly imagine that she was just some sort of semi-animated furry handbag. I also unfastened her lead in case I needed to put her down in a hurry–the dog walkers’ equivalent of undoing the backpack waistbelt when crossing a fast-moving stream, perhaps. Anyway, the cows watched as we passed through the field but didn’t grow agitated, or attempt to follow us. Save for the fact that my heart-rate rose to a dangerously high tempo, no damage was done.

That’s how it was all the way through Yorkshire, in fact. When we did have to walk through fields of cows they showed little or no interest in us. There was a potentially nasty moment when a ram out walking with his ewe decided to try to butt Piglet, but I was quite glad of that as a warning to Piglet not to assume that all sheep are cuddly and taste of gravy bones.

The problems began for us when we left Sedbergh and set off towards the M6. In a field near Beck Foot (the GR was approximately SD 611 962) we encountered bullocks. Once again I was anxious, but I reminded myself that we’d survived all previous encounters and set off cautiously into the field, Piglet tucked under my right arm and unclipped from her lead, just in case.

The bullocks were about 100 metres in front of us initially, and spread around a bit, so that it wasn’t possible to take either a higher or lower line through the field to avoid them. When we got to about 20 feet away a group of 5 or 6 suddenly began to walk quickly towards us. I tried to look commanding and stare them down, but that didn’t work. I shouted, and although they stopped for a couple of seconds they then came on.

By that time they were only about 10 feet away. The ground was sloping and uneven, and the bullocks formed a very threatening semi-circle to my left. I was frankly very frightened indeed, and Piglet was completely silent under my right arm. I didn’t want to move too suddenly in case I precipitated a charge, but at the same time it was clear that the bullocks weren’t going to lose interest and drift away.

I spent a minute that felt more like an hour yelling at the cows, while with my left hand I frantically struggled to get one of my walking poles out of the elastic fastenings attaching it to my Exos rucksack. Having finally managed to get the pole lose, I somehow managed to extend it, and began to wave it towards the bullocks. They didn’t back off at all, though. In fact they continued to creep closer all the time, in small lurching movements, as long as I wasn’t actively screaming at them or waving the stick. Each time I tried to move forwards they came closer, and so eventually I began to back away along the path. At that point they stopped following me, and I was finally able to escape with Piglet into the next field.

When I put Piglet down she was cowering and scared–hardly surprising, what with all the yelling, let alone the bullocks–and I had to give her a biscuit to perk her up a bit. I’d have preferred a Valium myself, but unfortunately I didn’t have any with me. When we’d both recovered our breath we retraced our steps to Beck Foot and followed the road to the point at which we were able to cross the M6.

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

(I took the picture once I’d escaped, by the way, and from a distance.)

I’d thought that maybe we’d just been unlucky, but that wasn’t the end of it. A little later in the day we were crossing fields near Holme Park Farm when we encountered the bullocks pictured at the top of this posting. They weren’t immediately visible, in fact. I’d decided (thank God!) to stop for a wee cigarette break at the stile, and it was as I was sitting there gazing out at the field in front of me that I was almost frightened out of my skin by the sound of galloping hooves behind me. When I got up and turned round a bullock had rushed across to the stile, and it was soon joined by two of its pals.

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

The reason we’d stopped for a break, incidentally, was that Piglet and I had been attacked only about ten minutes earlier by a collie and two huge Alsation dogs, who came rushing out of the yard at Holme Park Farm onto the public road and began to bark frantically. One jumped up at me while the other went for Piglet, who cried out in fright since she was trapped on her lead. Fortunately the farmer heard the commotion and came out to get them. As he was leading them away he told me that this had happened because a cyclist using the public footpath that runs through the farmyard had once kicked one of the Alsations. I wonder why on earth that can possibly have happened!…

Anyway, it was quite obviously not safe to try to continue into the field, and so once again Piglet and I had to go back and take a detour round the road. For reasons that are probably obvious I didn’t want to go back through the farmyard with the bunch of savage dogs, and so we skirted up the side of the field to a point where I was able to climb over a fence. The bullocks followed us all the way, snorting and stamping up and down in the muddy grass as Piglet and I negotiated yet another batch of barbed wire to escape out onto the road. By that stage what was left of my wits almost entirely deserted me, and I managed to get us both comprehensively lost. That’s another story, though…

We did have to pass through another two fields of cows the following day. When I saw them I thought seriously about taking the road to Kendal and getting an early train home, but I decided to give it just one last try. Once again I was very scared, but on that occasion the cows left us both alone. If I ever do the Dales Way again, though, I’ll definitely be finishing in Sedbergh. I can hardly think of a less impressive introduction to Lakeland than the one that Piglet and I had last Thursday. If I’d not walked there almost all my life I’m pretty sure I’d not have wanted to go back.

I thought quite a lot about this whole cow v. walker issue as I was walking, and it seems to me that the only really safe solution is for farmers to be provided with grants to fence off a narrow track around the edge of grazing fields so that walkers–and, if necessary, dogs–can pass safely through. We did actually pass through several fields with that arrangement earlier in the walk, and it worked well. Finance is always an issue, of course, but even if it’s not feasible to protect all public rights of way in that manner then surely it should be possible at least to cover the National Trails.

In the meantime, I wish the very best of luck to Shirley McKaskie in recovering her damages, and from her injuries. She must have been very seriously injured indeed to have been awarded an interim payment of £250k, and as I read through the reports this morning, and also those relating to the recent trampling to death of vet Liz Crowsley, and Graham Dugdale‘s letter in the Lancaster Guardian about his own recent very narrow escape, I really was thinking that any one of those reports could very easily have been talking about me. Or then again, it could have been you.

Edited to say: sadly, I read today of the death this week of Harold Lee, trampled to death by his own herd of cows which had been startled by a fire engine. See here for the BBC report.

Some advice from The Ramblers

HSE Information Sheet for farmers


Finished Day 9 — 5 more to go, plus intro and journey home…

24 June, 2009


Aagh… will it ever be finished?

(That’s not me, by the way…)

Going to watch some telly now 🙂

Beautiful wee tune, and stupid BBC

18 September, 2008

What a performance it is, trying to get even the simplest of information out of the BBC!

I don’t watch a great deal of television these days, and when I do I’m frequently more interested in the music than the action (unless it’s a cookery programme, of course, in which case I sit with my snout pressed to the screen and my right crubeen poised on the Repeat button).

Bored the night before last, though, I took a quick scan at Tess of the D’Urbervilles, partly in a sort of half-hearted homage to A Level English Lit, taken all those thousands of years ago, but mainly because I was trying out the cunning thing the BBC now has which enables us to watch television programmes on our computers. I opened a second window and browsed off somewhere else as it played in the background, but a sublimely beautiful piece of music somehow broke through the various mental barriers I’d erected in order to be able to look at a couple of other web pages whilst half-listening to Tess, and here it is.

*happy sigh*

D’you think the BBC might have any idea of who wrote the music for what’s currently their major costume drama, though? Well, no. Of course they haven’t. Or if they have, they can’t be bothered to make the info available to the people on Customer Services so that they can pass it on to plebeian, licence-paying piglets like me. When I dared to persist beyond the initial “Oh, sorry: I’ve absolutely no idea!” they behaved as though I was some sort of dangerous lunatic who, if provided with the name of the composer and/or producer and/or any person in-any-way-howsoever-peripherally connected with the series and/or even (really pushing the boat out here…) an email address for Customer Support at the BBC, could be expected to jump on the first train to London and hide with a semi-automatic rifle in the bushes outside Television House (or whatever it’s called) in order to execute the musicians! When I explained that I just really loved the tune, and would like to know whether it’s possible to buy a copy, if I could only find out who wrote it, they didn’t seem to be equipped to understand. Maybe Paddy has confused them *g*

This lack of interest in who writes the music, and what it is, seems to me to be very odd, and extremely short-sighted. Try watching any of that sort of stuff with the sound turned down and you’ll soon drop off to sleep. The music is what brings it all to life!

By way of illustration, who amongst us can possibly have forgotten the utterly heart-stopping moment in Pride & Prejudice when Darcy and Elizabeth’s hands finally came together in the dance, to the beautifully haunting strains of the rather uneasily entitled Mr Beveridge’s Maggot? (On reflection, I think perhaps that’s the name of the dance.) Anyway, I’m almost sure I read afterwards that that first touch was immediately followed by a nationwide wave of happy, female squeeee-ing so loud and reverberant that it registered a 5 on the Richter Scale, and caused flood damage all the way up the coast from Bognor Regis to Blackpool!

Hmmm… well, just in case there might be somebody out there who doesn’t remember it, here’s a little reminder. (Please ignore the sub-titles half-way through: written in Piglettish. It’s the beginning that’s likely to knock you off your seat again.)

Darcy & Elizabeth — Netherfield Ball

*pants a bit at Colin Firth*

(Actually–and although this is a side issue–I also particularly enjoy the sight of Jane Bennet in the background, during the introduction, tossing her head around in ethereally slow-motion, like some sort of restive horse.)

Please add me to Paddy’s list of people profoundly dissatisfied with the BBC…

Anyway! Google eventually revealed that somebody called Rob Lane wrote the music for this production of Tess, and I’m still pursuing the beautiful tune. Here it is again, in case you didn’t click first time round. Lovely, lovely, lovely!


Update: Beware Note Tab Pro / Plimus / Fookes Software

10 September, 2008

Unusually, I was irritated enough yesterday morning to post about what happened when I paid Fookes Software via Paypal for a licence to use their product, Note Tab Pro. Instead of receiving an email with a registration code, I instead received an email from Plimus, who (it turned out) handle web-sales for Fookes Software, telling me that there was going to be a delay of up to 12 hours whilst their staff reviewed the order “for quality purposes”.

In fact, the registration code arrived about 20 minutes later, but of course I hadn’t known that it was going to do so, and I was so annoyed by Plimus’s “we’ll take control of your money and just hang onto it while we conduct reviews into our internal operating procedures” practice that I emailed Fookes Software to draw it to their attention.

Later in the day, someone from the Fookes Software Helpdesk wrote back to tell me that the delay had occurred because the email address I used for my order was different from my Paypal email address, as a result of which Plimus had carried out a “manual review”. In fact, I don’t believe the email I supplied via the website did differ from my Paypal email address, but even if it had done I don’t consider it appropriate for a vendor (or its agent) to process a transaction–which has the effect of removing money from a person’s bank account via Paypal–and ‘ask questions’ later. I’ve been using Paypal for many years, and I’ve never had this experience before.

Anyway, Fookes Software made it clear in email that they didn’t think there was any sort of problem. There was no sort of acknowledgement that any of this might have been the source of legitimate irritation or concern, and despite the fact that my transaction was with them they suggested that I should take the matter up with Plimus if I was dissatisfied.

The tone of the email from Fookes Software simply added fuel to the fire, and so I wrote back to explain the respects in which their response seemed to be inaccurate and/or to miss the point. They didn’t have the courtesy to respond to the points that I’d made, but later in the day simply forwarded to me an email they’d received from Plimus. The Plimus email didn’t address the points either (I don’t know whether Fookes Software had actually forwarded my email to them or not), but it included the following:

“You seem to have already explained Plimus’s manual review process to [my name].There’s not much else to add, other than maybe to reassure her that if anything happened during the review process to NOT approve her order, the money would have been immediately refunded back to the paypal account.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else think this casual manner of dealing with other people’s money is completely inappropriate? When we provide vendors with our bank details (either directly, or via a third party site like Paypal) I think we’re entitled to expect that the vendor will recognise its legal (and moral) obligation to provide what we’ve paid for without delay. If there’s an internal review to be conducted, then I feel I’m entitled to expect it to be conducted on their time, and not mine. When I go shopping for vegetables, I don’t expect to hand over my money at the till only to find the sales assistant slipping my bag of veggies under the desk and telling me to wait while his/her supervisor conducts a review into the way in which he/she dealt with my order. If supermarkets tried that, customers would be calling in the police!

This online practice is exactly the same, except that ISTM that in one respect it’s worse. If I’ve handed over cash I have only that cash to lose, but when I’ve handed over my bank details to strangers over the internet I have absolutely no idea what the person on the receiving end might attempt to do with them next. If we can’t have faith in online retailers to conduct these sorts of transactions scrupulously, and with complete transparency, then the whole system breaks down.

Fookes Software have made it crystal clear that they consider me to be making a fuss about nothing, and it may be that Plimus feel the same. At least Plimus, though, had the courtesy to contact me in email earlier today in order to explain their practice. They did *not* suggest that there was any issue about my email address (and indeed I’ve spoken to Paypal, who have confirmed that no enquiry was made by Plimus of them in relation to the transaction), and so for the second time I’m left wondering why Fookes Software suggested that in the first place. Instead, Plimus simply explained that they subject a number of orders to random, retrospective checks as part of their standard, automated anti-fraud systems. For the reasons set out above I feel they’ve missed the point, but I do appreciate their having had the courtesy to contact me about this.

In the meantime, I won’t be buying any further products from Fookes Software, and nor will I be buying any products online via Plimus.

Rant! Beware Note Tab Pro / Plimus / Fookes Software

9 September, 2008

Bloody hell! I’ve been using a trial version of Note Tab Pro for a month or so, as an HTML editor. This morning I spotted a change that I need to make to a page on my website, but when I tried to start the programme it told me that the trial period was over.

I went to the web page and paid for it with Paypal–£20–and although the company, Plimus, took my money immediately I received an email from them as follows.

Thank you for submitting your order for NoteTab-NoteTab Pro using Plimus. Your order
is currently being reviewed by our staff for quality purposes, this process is
usually completed within a few minutes, however, please allow up to 12 hours to hear
back from us. If you wish to expedite your approval, please click on the following
link to add your comments:
[URL removed by me]

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, your order will be processed
shortly. If you have any question about your order or wish to leave us a comment,
please click on the following link:
[URL removed by me]

Important: Do not submit another order through our system as this will further delay
the processing and may cause a double-billing to your credit card.

Thanks for your patience,

Plimus Sales

What a bloody cheek! They’ve taken my money (my Paypal account confirms it) but they haven’t sent me the registration code! I’ve emailed them, but they haven’t yet responded.

What on earth makes manufacturers who sell software online for immediate download imagine that it’s okay to make people who’ve paid for a product wait any period of time at all, let alone an indefinite period, while they ‘review the order for quality purposes’? I came across this sort of thing a couple of times a few years ago, when online selling was less common, but not recently. Nor had I expected to encounter it from the vendor of a well-known product like this.

Rant, rant, rant…

Edited to add:

Well, it all arrived about 20 minutes later, so all’s well etc etc. It turns out that Fookes Software, who produce Note Tab Pro, employ Plimus to sell it for them. I’ve written to Fookes Software to tell them about this weird practice, and I’ll be interested to see whether they reply or not.