The heartbroken family of a nine-year-old boy who died in a tragic farming accident will never forget the day their lives changed forever.
September 6, 2021 began as a normal day on the Bunford family farm in the Welsh valleys of Rhondda Cynon Taf but it soon turned into unimaginable tragedy.
Dad Rhys, mum Louise, 15-year-old Gethin, baby Clemmie and Tomos all set off in their pick-up truck for a journey they often made every three days.
With a water bowser attached to the back of the truck, they went to take the water down the hill and into rented fields for the grazing cattle near Blaenllechau.
However, Rhys, 38, who has made the same journey ever since he was a child, was driving the vehicle and instantly knew something was wrong.
He could feel the truck and water bowser sliding as they made their way down the hill and, in a split-second decision, urged everyone to get out immediately.
“When we were going down, the truck started to slide and at the bottom of the field is this massive cliff and a big drop,” said Louise, 36, from Ynysybwl Pontypridd.
“Rhys said for us all to get out. Tomos was in the passenger side in the back, then it was me and then baby Clemmie, and Gethin was in the front with Rhys.
“Rhys was driving and then Tomos jumped and I pushed him as far as I could from the truck. I then jumped with the baby on my chest and I went under the wheels with the baby.
“I then passed the baby to Gethin as he and Rhys jumped out while we were going down the field. Gethin grabbed me from under the wheels, not knowing the bowser was jackknifing when we all decided to exit the vehicle.”
But when Rhys looked around to search for Tomos after realising baby Clemmie, who turns two this December, was safe, he could only watch on in horror as the water bowser headed towards his son and hit him.
“I said to everyone to jump out and then as everyone started jumping out I looked around. I could see it coming round to my side and it went over Tomos,” added Rhys, who said his son never liked going into that particular field.
“I knew he was gone.”
With Louise on the phone to 999 and Rhys attempting CPR, nothing could be done to save him despite paramedics giving young Tomos treatment for some two hours. Clemmie was also checked over in hospital but ultimately passed through unscathed.
Had Rhys not have made the call to jump from the truck they would have all likely died.
The tragic accident happened on the last day of the school holidays, with Tomos due to return to his classmates after the summer break.
“Tomos loved school,” added Rhys, “my eldest, Gethin, hated school, but Tomos loved it. He wanted to be a vet, and when he’d go into school the teacher and kids would ask, ‘What have you done this morning, Tom?’ and he’d go, ‘Oh, I’ve collected 1,200 eggs, I’ve trayed them up, fed the cows’.
“We’d go to livestock markets and you’d go, ‘Christ, where’s Tom gone?’ and he’d be talking to an old man or something around the corner. He had his head switched on, he wanted to be a famous YouTuber, he was always on his iPads and TikToks.
“He loved wildlife. If there was a poorly lamb or anything he’d look after it in the house.”
To help keep his memory alive, Tomos is now buried within a garden on the family farm just 25 metres from the home, along with his quadbike and go-kart.
His bedroom also remains untouched with his school clothes still hanging up, and his parents admit the house is a lot quieter now without his infectious charm and character. They still have to work on the farm daily, a constant reminder of their devastating loss.
The family are sharing their sobering story as part of Farm Safety Week and are pleading for more to be done to help make UK farms safer.
They lost their beloved son thanks to a freak accident. The field conditions weren’t different, the level of water in the bowser was the same as always and the vehicles passed post-accident safety checks and know it can happen to anyone.
A decade after the first Farm Safety Week campaign, agriculture continues to have the poorest safety record in the UK and Ireland, according to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Over the last year, which covers April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, 25 people have lost their lives on farms. While down from last year’s total of 41, far too many lives are being lost.
And of the 25 people killed in England, Scotland and Wales in the past year, 22 were farm workers and three were members of the public. The most common cause of fatal injury in agriculture was someone being struck by a moving vehicle.
In the last few weeks there have been further tragedies too. Last month, 17-year-old Luke Searle died in an incident involving a bale-wrapping machine in Plymouth, and just last week, Albie Speakman, three, died after being struck by a tractor in Bury, Greater Manchester.
Now, the Bunford family have teamed up with the Farm Safety Foundation and Wales Farm Safety Partnership in a bid to help educate rural primary schools across Wales about the dangers of farms and working to improve farm safety.
“We just need to make all these farming families who haven’t had an accident in their area or family to be aware. Last year, before September 6, we were one of those families,” added Rhys.
“If we could talk to every young family with a farming background to prevent this we would.
“We would never want someone with a farming background like us to go through it, and if we can make the industry safer by this we will do it.”
Louise, meanwhile, is also calling for greater support, adding: “If you were in an industry in an office and you’ve lost your child, you’d have sick pay and everything but when you’re farming and you’re self employed, there’s no support for farming.
“You’ve still got to get up the following day to feed the animals, nobody else does it. There needs to be more support, it’s such a big industry and the most dangerous industry.”
The tragic accident has made the Bunford family acutely aware that you can never be too cautious, and they now even think twice about leaving a mop bucket full of water outside. Before losing Tomos, the family were well aware of the risks involved in agriculture, but say they’re living proof that it could happen to anyone.
They’re now encouraging primary school children across Wales to take part in a competition to create a safety calendar that shows the risks of farming and how steps can be taken to make it as safe as possible.
The aim is to have a calendar hung up in the homes of every rural family so they’re reminded every single day about the risks involved.
Farm Safety Foundation manager Stephanie Berkeley said: “Farms are family homes, they are fantastic places for children to grow up and live and learn the basics of responsibility, of team work and hard work.
“Unfortunately, we lose one or two children every year. I’m a mother myself and one of my friends has been through it as well. I know it can have an effect.
“When we have a family as brave as the Bunfords supporting a campaign that we’ve been doing for 10 years, we are starting to see improvements in the industry. Those improvements are going too slow, the pace of change is far too slow, it’s too slow for the Bunford family and the 24 others that lost a loved one in the last year.”
She added: “We’ve all got a responsibility. It’s not just us and the Bunfords, it’s not just up to us at the Farm Safety Foundation, it’s up to every single person living and working in the industry in the UK and Ireland to make our farms safer places to live and work.”
Adrian Hodkinson, Principal Inspector of Health and Safety, who works in the HSE Forestry, Arboriculture and Agricultural Machinery Team, said: “While Great Britain is one of the safest countries in the world to work, the number of people injured or made ill working in agriculture, and other similar high-risk industries, show that we must continue to ensure safety remains a priority.
“Every loss of life is a tragedy, and we are committed to making farm workplaces safer and holding employers to account for their actions, as part of our mission to protect people and places.”