A market gardener who plummeted to his death riding in a digger bucket at the organic farm owned by JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford’s wife was on his way to pick elderflower when an unqualified colleague drove over a bump, an inquest jury heard.
Anthony Cripps, 57, was perched up to 10ft high in the bucket of the JCB, near Lady Carole Bamford’s Gloucestershire farm shop, when he tumbled beneath the wheels.
The inquest, at Gloucester Shire Hall, was told there was a sign on the seven-ton machine which forbade people riding in the bucket, and that the digger was driven by Gareth Trueman, 22, who had no formal training in its operation.
The Daylesford Organics store, in Moreton-in-Marsh, has been dubbed “the Harvey Nics of the Cotswolds”.
It specialises in vegetables, fresh from the Bamfords’ own kitchen gardens, award-winning handmade cheeses and fresh meat from the couple’s organic Staffordshire estate.
The success of “posh nosh” outlets like Daylesford, favoured by local celebrities like Liz Hurley and Kate Winslet, was followed by Prince Charles opening his own organic store – Highgrove, in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
Detective Inspector Jan Blomfield, of Gloucestershire police, told the jury he arrived at Daylesford Estate in the mid-afternoon and found the JCB parked near to a chicken house, with Mr Cripps sprawled in front of it.
Two other men, Mr Trueman, who was driving at the time, and Michael Turner, 50, a second passenger in the 81cm bucket, both gave negative breath tests.
Mr Trueman was arrested but it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with negligent manslaughter.
Police then handed the investigation over to the Heath and Safety Executive, which may yet launch its own prosecution.
Mr Blomfield revealed there was a warning sign on the JCB’s arm warning workers not to ride in the bucket. Mr Cripps, of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, had been employed at the Daylesford Organic Farm for less than four months before the tragedy on June 5 last year.
Before giving evidence, driver Mr Trueman was warned by Gloucestershire coroner Alan Crickmore he was entitled not to answer questions if he thought they might incriminate him later.
Mr Trueman admitted he needed special training to drive the JCB, adding that three of his seniors, including farm manager Richard Smith, allowed him to operate it anyway.
Mr Trueman confirmed that Mr Cripps fell from the bucket at the moment he drove over the undulating land, at an estimated speed of 5mph.
He said: “I knew there was a bump there somewhere. I didn’t quite know where it was. I slowed up quite a bit.”
A mechanism to reduce the amount of bounce in the arms of the digger was not switched on, he confirmed.
Workers had been in the bucket, in violation of farm rules, on previous occasions but this was the first time he had driven while his colleagues were in it.
Mr Turner, who was also in the bucket, said: “The vehicle was going at walking speed, or just a bit faster than that, no more. It slowed down where there was no grass, for a big rut, then sped up again.
“I was looking at the geese when I felt a little bump, and I just saw Tony disappearing over the back of the bucket. It wasn’t enough to make me unsteady on my feet – I couldn’t understand that.
“Gareth stopped. I ran around to give him some stick because I just thought he had fallen off.
“I saw the front right hand wheel on top of Tony. I shouted to Gareth to back off. He backed off then I shouted to him to go and fetch help.”
The former pub landlord is survived by his widow Kaye and three adult children, Thomas and step-daughters Tasha and Saffryn.
The inquest continues.