Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Father's agony as he sees 10-year-old son killed in Co Down farm horror

Tributes paid to tragic Aaron Macaulay, who "spread joy everywhere"

Aaron Macaulay (centre), who died in a farming accident in Northern Ireland, pictured with his siblings (left to right) Jack, Helen, Hazel and Matthew. Photo PA.
Aaron Macaulay (centre), who died in a farming accident in Northern Ireland, pictured with his siblings (left to right) Jack, Helen, Hazel and Matthew. Photo PA.
The loader lies among trees on a farm near Moneyslane in Co Down where a 10-year-old boy died in an accident. Photo by Stephen Davison
A PSNI helicopter at the scene on Tuesday. Photo by Stephen Davison

A father watched helplessly as his 10-year-old son crashed to his death in a horrifying farming accident.

Aaron Macaulay was in the cab of a loading vehicle which was transporting slurry on his family's Co Down farm, when it apparently stalled near the top of a steep hill, known as Ballymacarney.

The boy's grand-uncle said the digger-type vehicle then hurtled backwards between 300 and 400 yards, before crashing to a halt further down the steep incline.

Aaron's brother Matthew – who is believed to be in his late teens – was also in the vehicle at the time.

He was still receiving hospital treatment last night.

The brothers were bringing slurry to their father Maurice, who was spreading it on land at the rear of the family's bungalow when the tragic accident happened shortly after 2pm yesterday afternoon.

The accident happened in Dechomet, a rural townland on the outskirts of Moneyslane, near Castlewellan.

Aaron's grand-uncle, who did not want to be named, said the tragedy would be hard to recover from.

"They were in the cab of the loading shovel and it stalled," he said.

"They rolled down the mountain, 300 or 400 yards. Aaron hit his head in the cab.

"His father saw it happening. He was with them.

"They were loading farmyard manure on to a loading shovel. The father was spreading it.

"The older brother Matthew, he's in hospital too.

"He's 18 or 19. They are keeping him in overnight due to concussion."

Two paramedics accompanied Aaron as he was airlifted to Craigavon Hospital. However, he later died from his injuries.

The Health and Safety Executive is investigating the incident, a spokeswoman said last night.

Aaron's grand-uncle said the boy, who was a one of five siblings and a pupil at Drumadonnell Primary School in Moneyslane, loved farming.

"They have farmed for generations.

"They're a quiet family – Wendy, his mother, and Maurice. A good living family," he added.

"It's hard to get over. There's been so many farming accidents round here this last while."

The Macauley family was too distressed to speak last night.

However, neighbours rallied around yesterday evening, helping out on the family's dairy farm.

A tractor run due to be held in the area on Saturday has been postponed following the tragedy.

The Rev Michael Davidson, minister at Drumgooland Presbyterian Church, said Aaron's family was heartbroken and devastated.

"Aaron was a very precious little boy, not just to his mum and dad and grandparents and brothers and sisters, but also to our church family and the wider community," he said.

"He was full of fun, he was full of life, a boy who enjoyed life to the full, a boy who just spread joy everywhere and was guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and to raise a laugh with the things that he would do."

Health and safety inspectors are investigating the death in Ballyward, close to Castlewellan.

Aaron came from a well-respected family active within the local church and members of the community have been left distressed, friends and well-wishers said.

He has two older sisters, Helen and Hazel, and two older brothers, Matthew and Jack.

His parents, Maurice and Wendy Macaulay, are well-known locally as farmers and members of the church.

Mr Davidson added that a post-mortem examination had been completed into the child's death and his funeral was planned for Friday. The minister described it as a tragic accident at the dairy farm.

"They are the kind of family where everybody wants to help out and do a bit. Aaron liked to be about the farm and to help," he said.

Members of the whole family were involved in the life of the church.

The clergyman added: "They are people with a strong Christian faith and that is what is going to get them through this time.

"The family are absolutely devastated, they are a close family, a supportive family. This is a very supportive community and the community is rallying round to help with the farm and in the house," the minister said.

"They appreciate that and they have a strong personal faith in Jesus that has given them comfort and hope at a difficult time."

Yesterday's death is the latest of a series of farming tragedies which have devastated agricultural communities across Northern Ireland.

South Down MLA John McCallister, who knows the family well, described Aaron as a "lovely child". His death was every parent's worst nightmare, he said.

"My heart goes out to the entire Macaulay family."

This is the third tragedy to hit Northern Ireland's farming community in a week.

While health and safety inspectors are still investigating the latest death, the Ulster Farmers' Union has renewed its appeals for farmers and their families to take care during a busy time of year.

Last week, a father of three died after falling from a wall on his farm in Co Londonderry. Henry Allen, 70, is believed to have lost his balance while working with silage.

Earlier last week, six-year-old Harry Starrett died after collapsing in the milking parlour of his family farm on the outskirts of Armagh. There were initial fears that he had died in a farm-related accident but a post-mortem examination subsequently identified an undiagnosed heart condition.

Last year, 12 people died in farm accidents in Northern Ireland, including Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence, his father and brother, who were overcome by fumes in a slurry tank on their farm outside Hillsborough, Co Down.

Twelve people died in 2011. Before the recent deaths, there had been two fatalities up until June this year.

Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers expressed their sympathies with the Macaulay family.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said Government needed to examine what more could be done to improve safety at farms.

Mr Robinson described the incident as "dreadful and horrendous".

"I think it shows the danger there is in and around farms and I think requires of Government that we re-emphasise the dangers that there are around farming," he said.

"It's a tremendous vocation, it's a very important part of our life in Northern Ireland, but I have to say our farms can be places of real danger and that requires us to be looking at the safety issues and there is responsibility as Government for that as well."

The First Minister said education was a key issue in regard to the wider issue of farm safety and said he would support calls for it to be taught in rural schools.

"This event is one that will hurt deeply that family circle and all the friends around it and I know that the whole of Northern Ireland will be thinking of that family at this time," he said.

Mr McGuinness said the latest farm fatality was "heartbreaking".

"It's very, very sad and our hearts go out to the Macaulay family on the loss of their son," said the Deputy First Minister.

"It's terrible and I know a family losing any child has a very dramatic impact on themselves and on the local community so I obviously extend my sympathy and condolences to the family as I do to all families who suffer at this time."

He added: "Obviously the farming community, those in the department (of agriculture) and others are continually looking at how safety can be further improved on farms and I think that just argues for more intensive work to be done."

Mr McGuinness said he was confident that a recent Government advertising campaign on farm safety was worthwhile.

"I think advertising campaigns do work," he said.

"I think we have seen that across the whole issue of drink-driving and so forth - on people improving their driving behaviour and the decrease in the number of people who lose their lives on the roads.

"So, I think, similarly, any campaign of advertising which is about saving life in an agricultural environment is money well spent, but I think we continually have to challenge ourselves to see what more can be done."

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