Teacher killed after being attacked by cow in 'fight mode', court hears

By John Mercury December 14, 2023

A teacher was killed after an escaped cow went into “fight mode” and tossed her over a wooden gate, a court has heard.

Marian Clode, 61, was out for a walk in Northumberland during the 2016 Easter holidays when a cow charged at her and attacked her three times.

She died in Newcastle‘s Royal Victoria Infirmary hospital, having suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the fall.

On Wednesday, Newcastle Crown Court heard that at the time, a group of around 140 cattle were being moved by farmer Alistair Nixon and other employees of Swinhoe Farm on a public bridleway.

Mr Nixon, 62, had used a stick while on a quad bike to stop some of the cattle from moving down the path, but a group of seven or eight cows and five or six calves got past.

The cows headed off along the enclosed lane, towards Mrs Clode and her family, prosecutor Craig Hassall KC, said.

Mrs Clode, who was born in Londonderry and lived in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, was unable to get out of the way.

Her two grandchildren, husband, daughter and son-in-law managed to leap over a barbed wire fence.

But she was attacked by the animal – which turned 90 degrees towards her as she stood by the gate.

Cows graze in a field under electrical pylons in Middlesbrough, northern England June 12, 2008. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis (BRITAIN)
A cattle behaviour expert said a number of issues could have made the cow react as it did. File pic

‘Cattle in full-blown fight mode’

Miriam Parker, a cattle behaviour expert, said a number of issues could have made the cow react as it did, including a fear of falling if it was being forced quickly downhill by more dominant animals behind.

She gave a statement that was used as evidence by the prosecution.

It said: “Cattle in full-blown fight mode will attack using their head, often repeatedly, and patently that is what transpired here.”

Ms Parker’s expertise also revealed that cows that are moved with their calves would exhibit “higher arousal levels” on a spectrum of anxiety, excitement and fear.

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Mr Nixon pleaded guilty to a health and safety breach on behalf of the JM Nixon partnership which runs the farm near Belford.

He admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of persons other than employees by exposing them to risks to their safety from the movement of cattle.

Tom Gent, defending the partnership, said the business employed “experienced and competent” stockmen.

Mr Nixon grew up on the farm and knowledge had been passed on from his father and grandfather, Mr Gent said, and workers were well aware that cows could behave more protectively when their calves were with them.

The partnership had initially denied any wrongdoing.

It will be sentenced on Friday 15 December.


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