A multi-millionaire dairy farmer was crushed to death by his own truck after his pet dog knocked a switch in the cab which made it move foward.
Derek Mead â who had been farming for decades â was working on building a rockery next to the pond at his home at The Laurels at Rolestone Road, Hewish, on June 4 last year.
Mr Mead, who was a well-known North Somerset businessman, had gone to collect some top soil from elsewhere his farmland for the rockery.
He drove his Manitou mounted truck â which is similar to a forklift and can be used to move materials around â to entrance of his property where he got out of the vehicle to open the gate.
But after he left the truck it unexpectedly started to move forward, crushing him against the metal gate.
Mr Mead suffered spinal fractures as a result of being crushed and died at the scene despite treatment by paramedics.
A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Mead died as a result of cervical vertebrae fractures and traumatic asphysxia.
Mr Mead’s pet Jack Russell dog had been in the cab with him. The inquest heard it was likely the pet had pushed a lever known as the ‘direction shuttle’, which controls the forward and reverse movement of the truck, when Mr Mead got out to open the gate.
Mr Mead farmed 1,600 acres over eight farms. On the day of the incident he was working in the grounds of his home.
Mr Mead’s son Alistair was returning from a day out in Weston-super-Mare with his wife and children and was travelling along Rolstone Road towards The Laurels when he saw the machine at the gate.
Mr Mead said: “We stopped and I could see dad’s legs at the front of the machine.
“He had seemed to have ducked to try and avoid it and the bucket was tipped up and pushing against his chest.
“The engine was still running on the machine and the handbrake was off.
“Inside the cab was my dad’s dog.”
A full health and safety investigation into Mr Mead’s death was launched.
The investigation revealed the Manitou truck was in good working order. Tests revealed even with the handbrake off, the machine would not move forward on its own accord if the direction shuttle was in neutral.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Simon Chilcott said: “Derek Mead was a farmer of many years experience.
“He was perfectly competent and there was no question of his ability to drive such a machine.”
Guidance from HSE and the National Farmers Union encourages people to always undertake a ‘safe stop’.
This sets out all controls should be placed in neutral, the handbrake put on, the engine turned off and the key removed when leaving a vehicle.
Mr Chilcott added: “This guidance however is not always followed.
“The guidance is in place for a reason because sadly there have been a number of incidents over the years which could have been avoided by taking these simple steps.”
The inquest heard if Mr Mead had knocked the direction shuttle when exiting the cab, he would have realised immediately as the truck would have started to move forward.
Mr Chilcott added: “We think the most reasonable explanation was that in the cab of the vehicle there was a small dog.
“Whether the dog put its paw up against the door of the cab or he had been jumping up to see where his master had gone, it seems most likely it has knocked the direction shuttle upward to move the vehicle forward.
“This is no more difficult than it would be to change the indicator direction on a normal car.
“There is no other explanation about what happened on that day. It was a tragic accident.”
A divorced father of three, 70-year-old Mr Mead was a leading businessman in North Somerset and a major landowner in the area.
He was the managing director of Mead Realisations which owns Puxton Park. He also owned the Sedgemoor Auction Centre at junction 24 of the M5.
Mr Mead â described as the ‘farmers champion’ â farmed around 1,600 acres in North Somerset and also owned racehorses.
Just days before his death he was taking part in the Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet.
In the years before his death he had become heavily involved in local politics and was elected as an independent to Weston Town Council and North Somerset Council in 2013.
He went on to help form the North Somerset First Independents group and was re-elected in 2015.
He also led the charge to re-open the then-dilapidated Tropicana, helping set up and acting as a spokesman for the Trop Trust.
Assistant coroner Peter Harrowing said: “The most likely explanation is that his dog he had in the cab with him inadvertently moved the direction shutter lever which prompted the forward movement of the machine.
“His death was a tragic accident.”
In a statement after the inquest the Mead family said: “As a family we have been processing the tragic and sudden loss of our father.
“It has been a very difficult time for us and for all of those who knew our father well
“Whilst we grieve for the loss of our dad, grandfather and friend, we celebrate everything which he has achieved and focus on continuing his legacy.
“We want to express our deepest gratitude for the support and all the kind wishes we have received during this difficult time from so many that dad reached out to.
“We thank you for continuing to respect our privacy as we as a family continue to grieve.”