Belfast Telegraph

Roberta Sloss tells of terrible day she lost husband Alistair in slurry tragedy

By Claire McNeilly

A heartbroken mother-of-five has spoken for the first time about the tragic loss of her beloved husband whose body was found by their eldest son following a horrific farming accident.

Alistair Sloss (52), a dairy farmer, was overcome by fumes and fell into a slurry tank at his farm near Coagh on October 14 last year - one day before the deadline for slurry spreading passed.

His widow Roberta said the family, who are holding a tractor run in his memory to coincide with the first anniversary of his death, want to use the event to highlight the dangers on farms.

The 51-year-old revealed it has been a difficult 12 months for herself and the children - Jonathan (23), Rebekah (20), Sarah (17), David (15) and Naomi (9) - who were the inspiration behind the forthcoming fundraiser.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Sloss, an insurance broker, recalled the terrible moments leading up to the dreadful realisation that Alistair - her partner of 27 years - had been so cruelly taken from their lives.

"Both Alistair and Jonathan were working on the farm together that day when I received a phone call from Jonathan around 4.55pm," she said.

"He was in a panic because he couldn't find his dad.

"He told me I needed to get home immediately; he'd said he'd found his Wellington boots in the slurry. I didn't take it in at the start. I didn't realise."

Mrs Sloss said Jonathan was putting out slurry but returned to the farmyard when he saw a lorry arrive to make a delivery.

"He couldn't find Alistair so he unloaded the delivery first and then tried ringing him ... but there was no answer and then the phone went dead.

"Initially he thought his dad might have gone in to the house for a cup of tea because it was just before the milking and he usually did that."

By the time she arrived home from work, 14 miles away, the widow said the police, ambulance, Fire Service and representatives from other agencies were already there. "Some of the neighbours were there too and I was told Alistair had drowned in slurry," she said.

"I had a fair idea that's what I was coming back to but I was still hoping that everything was going to be OK."

One of the most difficult aspects of the tragedy was not only dealing with her profound loss but somehow finding the strength to remain strong for their five children.

"It is difficult being a single parent," she said. "But no matter what you feel yourself you have to put your children first. It's hard to get used to being one person; that I'm on my own. It's only the prayers of people and my own faith that's getting me through this, as well as support from my family and friends."

Mrs Sloss paid tribute to her husband, whom she described as a "hard-working farmer who loved and was completely devoted to his family", and she said she had discovered "there is just so much to miss".

"I miss everything about him," she said.

"There's the awful feeling of going home from work and knowing that Alistair won't be there; he will never be there again. Alistair was always very reliable. I won't just miss one thing about him; it's all of it."

Roberta revealed that before the fatal incident Alistair was still receiving treatment for serious injuries he sustained in a previous accident on the farm after he fell between six and eight feet while he was fixing a leaking roof in the cow house.

"He hurt himself very badly in 2012, after which he had had to endure multiple operations and he was still attending hospital for that," she said.

"He actually had an appointment scheduled with a specialist in London for a check-up on the morning of his funeral on Monday October 18."

Another difficulty for Roberta has been trying to understand what exactly occurred on the dark day her husband died.

"Alistair was very careful. He knew the dangers and he wouldn't have taken any chances. Nobody knows what really happened that day," she said.

"What I know is that the slurry pump had broken down and he went to a local garage that afternoon to buy parts; he was there at 3.30pm but by 4.45pm he was dead.

"It was raining that day. If you were to pick a day to go out you wouldn't have picked it but he had no option because of the slurry deadline."

She added: "I last spoke to him at 2pm when he called me to give me a meter reading for an electric solar panel."

Describing events leading up to the funeral and burial as "a blur", Roberta added that "the whole thing was like a bad dream; it didn't seem real."

And she said that it was hard to visit his grave a couple of weeks ago after the headstone was put up it because "when you see it for the first time you realise everything is very final".

Belfast Telegraph

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