Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

Farmer killed herself after being wrongly accused of abusing her sheep

A dedicated farmer took her own life after an unfounded complaint about a sheep being covered in maggots was made to the RSPCA, an inquest heard.

Emma Watson, 43, was found dead by her mother in a wooded area on the farm where they both lived in Oakamoor, Staffordshire, on August 10 last year.

A court heard she became upset after an inspector visited the farm several weeks earlier.

‘An anonymous complaint had been made regarding a sheep covered in maggots,’ council inspector Paul Mills told the inquest.

‘It was referred from the RSPCA. When I arrived I saw Emma Watson. I explained the reason for my visit and she started to get upset.

‘She said she checked the sheep every day and was only aware of one sheep with flystrike and was adamant it had been treated.

‘After I reassured her I was only following up the complaint, she became calmer.’

The inquest heard how Mr Mills examined the animals and the individual sheep in question was in ‘good condition’.

Mr Mills said: ‘I was happy there were no welfare concerns for the animals.’

Miss Watson’s mother, Isabel, later phoned the council on July 3, 2019. It was agreed there were no major issues and a routine inspection would be carried out in October.

Mrs Watson said in a statement that on August 8, 2019, she noticed her daughter was worried.

She said: ‘Emma seemed down. An inspector had made an appointment to come and check the animals. Things seemed to be getting on top of her.

‘We went to bed at 10.30pm. Emma had been talking about having to go through all the animal records.’

The inquest heard Mrs Watson went to work at Alton Towers the following morning.

Mrs Watson said: ‘Emma was up and about. She seemed a bit upset. I asked her if I should phone work and stay at home with her but she said no.’

When Mrs Watson returned that evening, her daughter was not at home.

She looked around the farm but could not find her, so assumed Miss Watson had gone out.

The following morning, Mrs Watson began a more thorough search of the property and discovered her daughter’s body in a wooded area.

The cause of death was recorded as hanging. The inquest heard Miss Watson, who had a degree in ecology, had no medical history of anxiety or depression.

Her mother added: ‘Emma was always a very dedicated worker. She was very committed to the farm.’

Senior coroner Andrew Barkley described Miss Watson’s death as ‘a total tragedy’.

Reaching a conclusion of suicide, Mr Barkley said: ‘The only clear indication from the evidence as to why this happened appears to be the anxiety caused by this inspection, caused by a complaint to the RSPCA about the condition of one sheep.

‘Flystrike will strike very quickly and that is no indication of a lack of care. The inspector indicated he clearly had no concern for that sheep or any other.

‘It played disproportionately on her mind. Her mother said she was anxious about this and having to check animal records.’

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