“I thought we were going to die” – Farmer is fined after cows attack a man, 70, and his dog while walking on an East Devon public footpath

A 70-year-old dog walker attacked by cows on a public footpath in East Devon has told how he thought he would die.

Patrick Atherton and his 13-year-old border collie, Lad, set off from Birdcage Farm, in Ottery Saint Mary, in June 2022, when a cow charged at him, repeatedly knocking him down, kicking and stamping on his dog.

Farmer John Hallett, of Birdcage Farm, Ottery St Mary, East Devon, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as a result.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said Hallett pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. He was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court.

Simon Jones, HSE inspector, said: “It is fortunate that the injuries sustained by Mr Atherton weren’t life threatening, however given the nature of the attack the end result could have been far worse.”

He added: “Public knowledge – and concern – is increasing about how dangerous cattle can be.

“On this occasion Mr Atherton took the right precautions and HSE has taken action against the farmer in question.

“Cattle are extremely protective of their calves and even calm cattle can become aggressive if they think the calves may, in any way, be threatened, even by members of the public walking past.

“Farmers should not place cattle with calves in fields where members of the public have a legal right to walk.

“Had John Hallett followed this simple rule, then this incident could have been prevented.”

East Devon

Patrick Atherton, pictured here, was attacked by cows while walking his dog on a public path in East Devon.
Photo: with permission/HSE.

Retired chartered surveyor Mr Atherton, a regular user of the public footpath prior to the attack, suffered cuts and bruises.

Lad was ‘badly injured’ and needed ongoing vet medication until his death earlier this year. The cows tried to ‘kill’ the dog, repeatedly kicking him, and stamping on the pet.

Mr Atherton, a trainer of border collies for many years, said: “It was ironic that for the first time I had kept Lad on his lead as I had noticed two young calves in the field and thought if he was walking by my side they wouldn’t really notice.

“Unfortunately, one black cow did and it charged at us, knocking me down by the hedge that bordered the path.

“I tried to stand up and let Lad off his lead but they kept on knocking me over.

“There were about seven cows involved, but it was the very aggressive black cow that was trying to kill my dog.

“I thought we were going to die.”


The Health and Safety Executive fined the farmer of cows that attacked Patrick Atherton, pictured, as he walked his dog on a public footpath.
Photo: with permission/HSE.

The dog walker, who had been dropped off at the footpath by his wife, said the attack ended after he heard a call – who he presumed to be from the farmer – and the cattle moved away from the pair and ran back to the farm.

Mr Atherton, said: “I had been powerless to do anything. We were both surrounded by cattle.

“I could hear Lad shrieking in pain as he was repeatedly kicked and stamped on.

“He was never the same dog after what happened and he sadly passed away in September this year.”

He added: “I just want to make other people aware of the risks when out enjoying popular footpaths such as this one.”

The HSE investigation found that cattle with young calves – which are known to be protective and unpredictable – were being kept in a field with a public right of way across it.

The national regulator for workplace health and safety said cattle with young can pose a risk to walkers, especially to those with dogs.

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