Farmer's manslaughter case dropped

A SUFFOLK farmer charged with manslaughter after a motorist died in a collision on a muddy road outside his farm was cleared today when the prosecution offered no evidence.

A SUFFOLK farmer harged with manslaughter after a motorist died in a collision on a muddy road outside his farm was cleared today when the prosecution offered no evidence.

David Winter, from Halesworth, was not directly involved in the accident in which doctor's wife and retired midwife Jennifer Townsley, 59, was fatally injured.

The manslaughter charge was brought on the basis of the amount of mud on the B117 at Walpole, near Halesworth, at the time of the collision on November 22, 2000, between Mrs Townsley's Midas kit car and an oncoming Land Rover Freelander driven by a local woman.

Mrs Townsley, of Southwold, Suffolk, died in hospital two weeks after the accident.

Mr Winter, who lives with his wife at Red House Farm near the scene of the crash, had been harvesting sugar beet when the mud was allegedly scattered on the road.

The charge was brought over a year ago, since when he has been on bail awaiting trial.

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Today, Mr Justice Aikens, who had been assigned to preside over a Norwich Crown Court trial scheduled to start on February 18, formally entered a verdict of not guilty.

After the brief hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Winter, 60, said: "I am extremely relieved at the decision to terminate the prosecution against me. To be formally acquitted today of the charge of manslaughter brings to an end the nightmare of the past 15 months.

"I cannot begin to describe how much this prosecution has affected my family and me, but we hope that we can now put these events behind us and resume our normal life.

"My wife and I would like to express our deepest sympathy for the family of Mrs Townsley. Our thoughts and prayers have been with them throughout what must have been a very painful time."

The prosecution had alleged that the accident was caused by mud dropped on the road during beet harvesting. It was claimed Mr Winter owed a duty of care to motorists and that he had breached that duty.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service explained: "The prosecution case was that Mr Winter caused the accident by allowing harvesting to continue and, having created a dangerous situation, failed to take sufficient measures to ensure the safety of motorists who would encounter the mud.''

Prosecuting counsel Stephen Leslie QC told the judge today that the Crown had initially been satisfied that a jury was likely to convict Mr Winter on the evidence available.

But, following analysis of the evidence and remarks made by the judge during a pre-trial hearing, the Crown had concluded that a conviction on the charge of "gross negligence manslaughter'' was no longer a realistic prospect.

After the hearing, Chris Yule, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Suffolk, said: "I have to be satisfied that a jury, properly directed in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict.

"Having reviewed the case again as a result of the trial judge's rulings and having considered the advice of a leading counsel, I am no longer satisfied that there is a realistic prospect of a conviction.''

Mr Yule added: "I no longer believe there to be a realistic prospect of a jury concluding that Mr Winter's acts and/or omissions could be characterised as grossly negligent and therefore a crime.''

In another recent case, Cheshire farmer John Allwood was cleared of intentionally causing danger to road users after a judge ruled that he could not be held responsible for a fatal accident said to have been caused by mud left on the road after harvesting.

The decision in that case is believed to have been based on Mr Justice Aikens' pre-trial ruling in the Winter case.