Dunloy slurry death: Robert Christie 'gentle wee character'

The BBC's David Maxwell says the community is still trying to take in the terrible news of this tragedy

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The eight-year-old boy who died in a slurry tank accident at a County Antrim farm was "a gentle natured wee fella", his school principal has said.

Robert Christie was overcome by slurry gases on Saturday afternoon. His father, Bertie, remains critically ill.

Robert was airlifted to hospital in Belfast from the farm near Dunloy, but doctors were unable to resuscitate him.

The principal of Knockahollett Primary School, Gerry Black, paid tribute to Robert.

'Huge impact'

"He had just such an open personality, such a bubbly wee character, interested in absolutely everything that he did," Mr Black said.

"He was a very, very gentle natured wee fella, made friends quite easily, shared his time with others and for that he was very popular.

"So his loss is going to have a huge impact on his friends, his classmates, the staff and the wider school family."

Robert and his 52-year-old father were helping out on the farm on Ballynaloob Road, near their own farm.

Both were overcome by poisonous fumes as they were mixing slurry. It is understood they were found by a postman on Saturday afternoon.

Dangerous gases

Northern Ireland's Health and Safety Executive is investigating.

Its chief executive, Keith Morrison, said: "Incidents like this show starkly the dangers which our farming communities face and my heart goes out to those affected by this tragic accident.

"The facts tell us that farming is our most dangerous industry, and that is why members of the Farm Safety Partnership - government and the farming industry together - will continue to work every day to try to avoid these tragic events occurring."

Emergency services at farm Emergency services were sent to the farm
Farm where accident happened The accident happened on Saturday afternoon

A police spokesman said: "At the request of family members, police will not be releasing any further details at this time."

Barclay Bell, the deputy president of the Ulster Farmers Union, said dangerous gases build up in the slurry tanks.

Richard Wright, BBC NI agricultural correspondent

These gases are lethal; you can't smell them and you can't see them, they're heavier than air so they stay down low and people are effectively dead within a matter of seconds if they're affected by the gas.

A slurry tank is where the waste material from animals is collected and it tends to be underneath the building, so if you have a barn that cattle are in, the material's collected under the building, it falls through the floor and is collected in winter when the cattle are indoors.

You then have to spread that material as slurry onto the land. To spread it you first have to agitate it or break it up so you can spread.

It's when you go through that process to agitate it that the gases are released.

The advice is that when you agitate slurry you stay out of the building until the gas dissipates.

But the problem is you don't actually know when the gas has dissipated, you can't smell it, you can't see it and people don't tend to use meters - there are no very reliable meters widely available to detect this.

It's a fairly normal operation on the farm.

"It's really a tank for holding all the waste products from animals produced during the winter time," he said.

"It stays in these tanks maybe for a number of months and a lethal combination of gases build up, including methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and worst of all, probably, hydrogen sulphide."

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said: "It is deeply distressing to learn of yet another death near a slurry pit."

He added: "These accidents are tragic as they remind us of the real dangers the farming community face every day."

Sinn Féin assembly member Daithi McKay said: "Local people here are shocked at what has happened earlier today, as are the farming community across north Antrim."

TUV assembly member Jim Allister said: "The dangers of farming are ever present and when they claim lives, then it comes home to us all just how vulnerable farming families can be."

Ulster Unionist assembly member Robin Swann said: "It is becoming clear this is another terrible slurry tank accident. The fact remains that slurry is an ever-present danger on most farms."

SDLP councillor Harry Boyle said: "The Dunloy and Loughgiel community will rally around the Christie family to offer our heartfelt support, just as they have always been a source of support for us in difficult times."

It is the latest in a long line of fatal accidents involving slurry tanks on Northern Ireland's farms.

The most high profile incident was in September 2012, when Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham died after they were overcome by fumes on their family farm.

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