Man died at father’s Fincham farm, inquest told

Arthur Mason ANL-160317-110851001
Arthur Mason ANL-160317-110851001

A university student died after he sank under a mountain of grain in a farm storage tank he was cleaning, an inquest yesterday.

Farm workers frantically fought to pull out Arthur Mason, 21, after he became immersed under the wheat inside the grain silo for up to 15 minutes.

But the University of Gloucester student was pronounced dead at the scene on his father’s farm at Fincham, on July 9, 2014.

On Wednesday an inquest into his death at Norwich heard the keen rugby player had been cleaning the silo alongside fellow worker Jamie Legg.

He had been in good spirits on the day, had been “taking the mickey out” Mr Legg’s dad shortly before his death, the inquest heard.

They had been shown how to clean the silos using a broom, a harness, rope and safety mask the day before by farm worker Mark Funge.

They would put on a harness and tether it to a ladder which runs horizontally down the length of the silos, which hold between 45 and 50 tonnes of grains.

In a statement read out to the jury, Mr Legg said: “The grain was about six to eight feet from the top. “Mark came with us. Arthur climbed in. I do not remember if he tied to the tether to the ladder.

“I was lookout. Mark asked if we were OK. I let him know we were fine.”

Mr Mason carried on cleaning the silo and signalled to Mr Legg to open a door at the bottom of the silo to let more grain out when he was finished cleaning the top section.

Mr Legg said: “I opened the door and looked down and saw him walking around on the grain as normal.

“After 20 minutes the grain was half way down. Arthur was standing in the middle of the bin with grain up to his knees. He looked up and said ‘can you close the door?’”

Mr Legg took around a minute to get down and close the door and return to his original position.

In this time he said Arthur “seemed panicked” and was repeatedly shouting ‘Mark’ loudly.

He said: “When I got to the bin Mark was trying to dig his head out. Both of his arms up to the forearm were visible but the rest of his body was completely under the grain.”

Mark told Mr Legg to go and get help and he returned with three other farm workers.

They all rushed to help and someone yelled to Mr Legg: “Go and get help so he can breath.”

Mr Legg then went and got a black pole which they could use to create an air pocket for Arthur and give him so space to breath.

He returned with one, by which time Arthur had spent 10-15 minutes under the grain.

The East and England Ambulance Service and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service were also called and helped to remove Arthur’s body.

He was pronounced dead at the scene and was formerly identified by his father Hugh, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on July 11, 2014.

Mr Legg added: “I do not believe Arthur intended to put his own life at risk. He was doing everything right.”

The jury of five women and three men at Norfolk coroners’ court heard how Mr Clegg had only had five to six hours health and safety training before starting his job.

He began working as a farm labourer on June 23, 2014.

He was employed to doing menial farms jobs including cleaning grain silos. In his first week of work he spent five to six hours reading and signing risk assessments.

He was given around 15 booklets to read and sign, which covered health and safety.

The pair were shown by Mr Funge how to use safety goggles, face masks and a harness to clean the grain silos on July 8.

One of the pair would get into the silos and use a broom to clean the silos, while the grain was about eight to nine feet from the top.

When this was done a door at the bottom of the silo would be opened to let the grain out quickly and allow the rest of the silo to be cleaned.

While one person was cleaning a silo, the other one would act as a look out and open the door when necessary.

The first day of cleaning passed without incident but when the pair were cleaning silo number nine on July the 9.

Christopher Legg was five minutes away and rushed to help Arthur after he received a phone call saying something had gone wrong.

Describing seeing Arthur’s body he said: “He looked through my soul. I saw a young man on that day lying on his back. I will take that memory to my grave and I do not know how I can ever move past the guilt.

“I was the farm manager that day and I feel full responsibility of his death.”

Mr Legg also criticised the fire service for being disorganised.

He said: “Jamie was handed a length of rope. He had been instructed by the fire officer to hold on to it and not let go of it.

“At the time I was on the walkway absolutely nothing was being done to lift Arthur out of the bin which is why I went downstairs and tried to get the grain out (of the sluice gate).

“For at least an hour nobody made an attempt to go into that bin. At no point did anybody try to get on.”

Mr Legg said that there appeared to be no one directing the fire officers and so he took it “upon himself” to go down the stairs and try and pull Arthur out from the bottom.

He added: “I went back downstairs and it seemed that nobody was doing anything.

“We had to show three fire officers where the fire isolation switches were. We had to help carry their equipment up from them. Nobody bothered to find a solution to the problem.

“At one point there was a fire officer carrying a defibrillator which they hadn’t prepared beforehand and I even had to tell him where to go.”

Mark Funge told the inquest he rushed to help Arthur Mason, 21, when he heard “muffled” screams from the grain silo he was cleaning.

He said: “I heard a muffled shout. I was about 20-25 foot away. I was on the same level as the top of the bins.

“I went along the bin. Looked over the top and all I could see was the top of Arthur’s helmet with his arms raised in the air above his head.”

He added: “I got in the bin.I tried to pull Arthur’s arms to try and pull him out.

“He was breathing and communicating by putting his thumbs up and I was talking to him

“I was trying to push the grain away from his face to try and get him air. I couldn’t see his face.”

Mr Mason had been cleaning the bin with a harness, helmet and face mask while Jamie Legg, 16, acted as a lookout.

Mr Funge added: “By that time Jamie had come out and I shouted to him to get help. He shouted to get help and he came along and he got in the bin.

“We both tried to pull Arthur up but we just couldn’t move him. With the harness we also tried to tug on the lanyard.

“We tried to grab hold of it and get some leverage.”

Mr Funge then got out of the bin to go and get a sledgehammer to smash the wood sluice door at the bottom of the silo.

In the meantime two other farm workers tried to put wooden boards behind Arthur’s body to try and stop the grain running on him.

He added: “By this time Christopher Legg (the farm’s manager) was coming up the yard with a sledge hammer and a metal bar.

“I grabbed the sledgehammer and ran towards the bin and smashed the wooden door in.”

He managed to smash the wooden door in and was able to see Arthur’s torso, but not his legs or face.

He and two others then began frantically digging the grain out of the silo to try and free Arthur.

He later saw the body when it had been removed from the silo.

Consultant pathologist Dr Mark Wilkinson carried out the post mortem on July 17 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Norfolk and gave a conclusion of death by asphyxiation. Opening the inquest, Jacqueline Lake, senior coroner for Norfolk, said: “The main issues, although this may change, are the risk assessments in place with respect to the cleaning on the silos, training with respect to the risks and use of harnesses, the rescue plan and how the rescue was affected by Hall Farm and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and the ambulance service.”

The hearing is due to last three days.