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Presenter Johnny Kingdom died after being crushed by digger, inquest told

The author and wildlife presenter had been described as ‘one of the last true characters of rural Britain’.

Johnny Kingdom died while trying to move a tree log with his digger (Hilary Knight/PA)
Johnny Kingdom died while trying to move a tree log with his digger (Hilary Knight/PA)

Wildlife presenter Johnny Kingdom was killed while trying to move a tree log with his digger, an inquest has heard.

The film-maker, photographer and author, 79, was crushed by the cab of the vehicle when it overturned on land he owned near Wadham Cross in Knowstone, Devon.

The coroner’s court in Exeter heard Mr Kingdom, born Walter John Kingdom, was found by his wife and son trapped underneath a three-and-a-half-tonne Hitachi excavator digger at about 9pm on September 6 last year, after he failed to return home.

His widow Julie Kingdom said her husband owned 53 acres of land, some of which he rented out to farmers, where Mr Kingdom would work “on most days”, cutting and burning hedge trimmings and clearing ditches.

She said in a statement read out in court: “About 8pm I became worried about him. I went with my son, Stuart, to the farm, where we found John underneath the digger.”

Mr Kingdom was declared dead at the scene, with Home Office forensic pathologist Dr Deborah Cook giving the cause of his death as crush asphyxia.

His son, Stuart Kingdom, said in a statement that he had accompanied his mother to find Mr Kingdom unresponsive, with the top part of the exposed digger’s cab “pinning him down across his waist”.

He said: “I saw the digger lying on its side. It was pitch black so I parked my truck with headlights on facing the digger and told mum to wait in the truck.

“I could see him underneath the digger. It was an enclosed cab, but the driver’s door was open.

“Dad was face down and the open side of the digger was on top of him.”

He described his father as the “life and soul of the party”, adding: “He was always laughing and joking and never acted his age. He always had a story to tell and was very popular, well-known, and everyone loved him.”

Mr Kingdom’s other son, Craig, told the inquest his father had been using his digger for about seven years, and said: “I was surprised at the accident, knowing dad’s skill and ability.”

John Snow, a forensic vehicle examiner, said the exposed side of the cab which pinned Mr Kingdom down would have had a door when it was manufactured, but had been removed.

A report by Hitachi UK found a “combination of events” had led to the digger being out in a “dangerous and unstable condition”, which led to it overturning.

The report said the weight and size of a 1.25 tonne oak log Mr Kingdom was attempting to move with the digger was “beyond the capacity” of the machine, which had been operated on an incline before it slid down a hill and overturned.

Assistant coroner Luisa Nicholson said: “It seems because the weight he was moving was too heavy for the digger to deal with, with the incline of the land, it caused it to topple over.”

She gave a conclusion of accidental death.

Before becoming a film-maker, Mr Kingdom worked as a farmer, quarryman, forestry worker and gravedigger.

He was lent a video camera following a tractor accident and developed a passion for recording wildlife.

In 2006, the BBC screened a 10-part series about his life, entitled Johnny Kingdom: A Year On Exmoor.

Mr Kingdom wrote an accompanying book, A Wild Life On Exmoor, followed by Bambi And Me, and West Country Tales.

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