A JURY has returned a verdict that a ‘devoted’ father-of-four was unlawfully killed when he was crushed by a tractor on a Furness farm.

Tom Phizacklea, of Langdale Crescent, Dalton-in-Furness, was refuelling the vehicle, which had a faulty handbrake and igni-tion, when the tragedy happened at Aurora Park Farm, Scales, near Ulver-ston, which is co-owned by Stuart Webster of The Ship Inn, Greenodd.

Mr Webster told the inquest at Barrow Town Hall he had been unaware of the hand-brake problem prior to the incident.

Mr Phizacklea’s widow Laura, 28, said her late husband, who worked at the farm from around Easter 2008, regularly told her of his unhappiness at the state of the farm equipment.

“He used to complain quite a lot that the machinery wasn’t very good,” she said. “He said he always used to tell them but Mr Webster was more interested in the pub that he owned at Greenodd than the farm.”

Investigating officer DS George Cubiss said Mr Phizacklea had left the tractor – which had a trailer carrying feed attached – running when he got out at a fuel tank to refuel.

“The handbrake, although you could pull it up, wouldn’t stay in position because the ratchet system was broken,” he said. “There was also a problem with the ignition and it was hard to start the engine, so because of these problems the tractor was left on.

“The wheels at the back started to sink into the ground and this gave the tractor the momentum to move forward.”

Mr Phizacklea, aged 34, was trapped between the tractor and trailer, which together weighed eight tonnes, and a mound of earth behind him.

Regarding the state of the tractor, a John Deere 2140, Mr Webster’s father, Robert, 83, of Baycliff, said: “I have seen a lot worse on farms. It was in reasonable condition and fit for purpose.”

Neither father nor son could confirm how long it had been since they had driven the tractor, but both said they did not know it was not working when the accident took place on July 2, 2009.

PC Shaun McKeown, a forensic vehicle examiner, said the tractor was in a ‘very poor state’ and told the hearing there was evidence that someone had worked on the handbrake, but this had not improved its function.

Health and Safety Executive officer Peter Hamer said the maintenance of the tractor was poor, adding: “I think it would be fair to say that things (on the farm) were done reactively rather than proactively.”

Delivering its verdict, the jury said: “The deceased was crushed by the tractor which had not been stationed correctly due to a defective handbrake. There is no clear evidence that the tractor involved in the offence had been maintained adequately.”

Paying tribute to her late husband, Mrs Phizacklea, who was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child Tomasina, when the accident happened, said: “He was a loving, devoted dad who loved his kids so much. He was a lovely, kind, caring and helpful man who will be missed so, so much by everyone who knew him.”