Inquest hears that boy who died in farm accident ‘should not have been in digger’

Aaron Macaulay aged 10  who died following an accident at a farm near Castlewellan
Aaron Macaulay aged 10 who died following an accident at a farm near Castlewellan

A 10-year-old boy who died in a tragic accident on his family’s farm should not legally have been in the digger when it crashed, a court heard yesterday.

The coroner’s court, sitting in Newry, heard evidence that the legal age for children to be in agricultural machinery is 13, but as coroner Jim Kitson commented, “it regularly occurs in farms in this country”.

“Whilst it’s a practice that should be discouraged the realities of life is that it is a common event,” said Mr Kitson, adding that he was satisfied Aaron John MacAuley had died as a result of head and neck injuries that he sustained when he was thrown from the cab of a digger which had hurtled down the side of a steep field at his family’s farm on the Rathfriland Road, Ballyward, Castlewellan last July.

“It is and will remain a dreadful tragedy for the MacAuley family,” said Mr Kitson.

Addressing Aaron’s parents, Maurice and Wendy, who held hands and appeared emotional throughout the 90-minute hearing, he expressed his “sincere condolences for what is, without a shadow of a doubt, a horrifically tragic set of events that lead to the death of young Aaron”.

The court heard that on July 30 last year, Mr MacAuley and his son Matthew had been spreading manure on a field which had a steep incline when tragedy struck.

In his statement Mr MacAuley said he had initially been driving the Caterpillar shovel with Aaron also in the cab, but then he swapped vehicles with Matthew so that he could spread manure at the steeper part of the field, believing his sons would be safer towards the bottom, less steep part of the field.

They had been working for around two hours when the shovel came back to the field with more manure when the engine of the digger stalled, leaving the large vehicle with neither steering nor brakes.

His statement recounted how he watched as the digger rolled back down the hill and came to a sudden stop when it collided with a large stone, the force throwing Aaron out through the back window.

“I ran down to the boys. Matthew was out of the shovel and was walking and talking but had a fresh cut to the right side of his head.

“Aaron was lying on his back on the bonnet at the back of the shovel, his feet were still in the cab. He was motionless and I just knew he was dead,” said Mr MacAuley in his


He told the coroner that Aaron enjoyed helping around the farm, helping out from when he was about six, “out milking cows or whatever”, and that he had had a previous accident when his arm had been injured but that he was “strong and healthy”.

After Mr Kitson made a finding of Aaron’s death being caused by head and neck injuries, his mother Wendy said simply: “Aaron’s in Heaven, that’s the main thing.”

‘We were thrown around the cab’

Matthew MacAuley, himself an agricultural student, described in his statement how his little brother was sitting on the arm of the driver’s seat as there was only one seat and no seat belts in the shovel.

He said the digger stalled without warning and that he tried to turn the wheel to use the gradient in the field as well as the brakes to stop it from rolling back but added that as both are controlled by hydraulics, with no engine power he could do neither.

“I no longer had control. Aaron and I were being thrown around the cab and I thought it would go through bushes and into another field,” said Matthew’s statement.But tragically, the digger hit the large stone and came to an abrupt halt, throwing Aaron out of the back.