Belfast Telegraph

Tributes to slurry tragedy boy Robert Christie as father fights for life

Principal's sad tribute to farm accident victim

By Joanne Sweeney

Little Robert Christie died doing what he loved best of all – being out and about with his dad on the farm.

The eight-year-old boy who lost his life in a slurry tank accident was said to have a knowledge of farming well beyond his years.

It was the first slurry-related death on a farm since the 2012 tragedy in which Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham died.

The Dunloy boy and his father Bertie were overcome by fumes as he helped his father mix the slurry tank at a friend's dairy farm on Saturday.

They were discovered by a caller to the Ballynaloob Road farm, who raised the alarm.

The emergency services treated them at the scene before Robert was airlifted to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital and his dad rushed to the Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.

Despite the efforts of medical staff, Robert died, while his father is fighting for his life.

His mother, Simone, has been keeping a bedside vigil at her husband's bed, where Bertie's condition was critical last night. The couple also have two girls, who were in P5 and P7 at the school Robert attended, Knockahollet Primary.

An investigation into the tragic accident has been launched by the Health and Safety Inspectorate.

The owner of the farm is reported to be Robert Brownlow, where Mr Christie and his son Robert are understood to have been regular visitors.

An elderly and frail man who answered the door was too distraught to comment on the tragic accident that occurred on the farm.

Gerry Black, principal of Knockahollet Primary, paid a moving tribute to his P4 pupil while he braced himself to support his staff as they attended an emergency meeting at the school yesterday.

"Robert was a wonderful little boy who will be sadly missed by the whole school family," he said.

"The thoughts and prayers of our school community are for Robert's mum, sisters Isobel and Alice, who also attend our school, and of course, his dad who is critically ill in hospital.

"He loved being out and about with his dad on the farm and had a tremendous knowledge of farming well beyond his years.

"His death is so very tragic."

Mr Black described a popular pupil whose teachers found him to be enthusiastic about his lessons and always wanted to participate.

"Robert got along with everyone. There wasn't a day went past when he didn't say hello when he met you around the school," he said.

"He was always ready to share some news about something he was doing in class or something he had done at the weekend.

"He just had an open, friendly wee personality and will be very sadly missed."

The chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, Keith Morrison, warned last night that farming remained the "most dangerous industry" in Northern Ireland.

"The facts tell us that farming is our most dangerous industry and that is why members of the Farm Safety Partnership – government and the farming industry together – will continue to work every day to try to avoid these tragic events occurring," he said.

"Children on farms can be particularly vulnerable and the Health and Safety Executive will continue to work with local schools to raise awareness of the dangers on farms."

However, a spokesman for the Department of Enterprise said that its Farm Safety Action Plan and province-wide awareness campaign was having an effect in making farms safer.

"There have been no farm slurry-related deaths recorded since the terrible Spence tragedy in September 2012," he said.

"There remains work to do and the partnership is committed to doing it, but the figures show progress and the campaign work has been very well supported and received by the farming industry."

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: "The devastation felt by the family is just unthinkable and the impact of what has happened is being felt throughout the closely-knit farming community across Northern Ireland."

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