Belfast Telegraph

Robert Christie lost his young life exactly nine years to the day after a relative died in a slurry accident

Little Robert to be buried as his dad clings to life

By Chris Kilpatrick

An eight-year-old was killed by toxic slurry fumes on the anniversary of a family member's death in similar tragic circumstances.

Robert Christie died having been overcome by fumes as he helped his father mix slurry at a farm in Co Antrim.

On the same date nine years ago, a cousin of Robert's father was killed when a slurry tank burst.

James Wilson, aged just 21, died alongside friend James Blair in the accident in Co Down in 2005.

The men were engulfed in almost 150,000 gallons of waste.

Mr Wilson had lived in Cloughmills, a short distance from where Robert died on Saturday.

The child's father, also called Robert and known as Bertie, continued to cling to life last night at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine. His wife Simone has maintained a bedside vigil since the tragedy.

Little Robert will be buried later today. His distraught family have requested privacy as they prepare for the funeral.

Specialist counsellors have been brought in to speak to classmates at Knockahollet Primary School. His two sisters, Alice and Isobel, are pupils at the school.

A neighbour told the Belfast Telegraph the father and son were found by a postman doing his round on the Ballynaloob Road, just outside Dunloy.

He desperately tried to save both, putting his life at risk to enter the shed twice.

He managed to pull Robert into the yard but was unable to lift his father.

The postman required medical attention for the effects of the toxic gases.

Robert and Bertie had been at the farm to help the elderly neighbours who own it.

Robert Brownlow, who is in his 80s, lives at the property with his sister. A friend said they were distraught at what had happened.

He said the community in which they live was heartbroken.

"Of course, as farmers we know what can happen, but you never think it will," he said. "You just can't take any chances. I have two children and both of them are locked inside the house when we're mixing slurry. It's a nightmare for the poor family. They have been through tragedy in the past."

Robert's death was discussed as matter of the day at Stormont, with politicians paying their respects to the youngster and his family. SDLP MLA Joe Byrne – who is vice-chair of the agriculture committee – said the loss had "touched the hearts of every family across the North who know all too well the potential perils that exist as part of life on the farm".

"This tragedy is another reminder of the dangers of slurry. It is a stark reminder of the dangers farming families face. The Department of Agriculture must, therefore, do all it can to find new ways of improving farm safety," he added.

Ballymoney mayor, the DUP's John Finlay, passed on his condolences on behalf of the local community.

"Robert snr is a farmer himself, he was helping another out and this tragedy happened. We just don't know all the circumstances, but we do know a family is in grief," he commented.

"The whole community will unite in hoping that the father pulls through and things get a little better for the family."

SDLP councillor Harry Boyle, who knows the family, added: "They have been deeply rooted in the local community and that is clearly evidenced by the fact that the family often travelled to help elderly farmers nearby."

The First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Secretary of State have passed on their condolences.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive is ongoing.

Timeline of farm deaths since 2009

June 2014: Robert Christie (8) died after being overcome by slurry fumes at a farm near Dunloy, Co Antrim.

July 2013: Six-year-old Harry Thomas Starrett collapsed at his grandfather's Co Armagh farm. The official cause of death was recorded as "unascertained" as the inquest revealed details of two separate tests to establish whether or not toxic slurry fumes had been responsible proved negative.

July 2013: Aaron Macaulay (10) killed in an accident at Moneyslane, near Castlewellan. The youngster suffered fatal injuries when he was thrown from the cab of a loading shovel on his family farm.

September 2012: Ulster Rugby player Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham died after they were overcome by fumes on their family farm. The inquest into their deaths heard it was the worst farming tragedy in Northern Ireland in 20 years.

July 2012: A father-of-two died after he fell into a slurry tank while working on his farm. William McMillan (43) had been working with his teenage son on his Redhill Road farm near Dromore, Co Down.

June 2011: A woman in her early 60s was killed on a farm in Co Tyrone. The victim was crushed under a trailer at the property in Cookstown.

September 2011: An elderly church warden died in a "freak accident" while herding cattle. Margaret Wrathall (74) was moving the animals when one broke loose and knocked her to the ground.

May 2009: A rural community was numbed after a toddler was killed in a farm accident. Tadhg Sweeney (2) was playing outside his home at Camlough Road near Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, when the accident happened.

March 2009: Alison Torrens, who was just eight years old, was killed after being crushed by machinery at the family farm near Drumquin, Co Tyrone. Mourners at her funeral were told she was a fun-loving child whose life was full of potential.

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