Northern Ireland

Spence family slurry deaths: Inquest hears tragic details

Noel (L), Nevin (centre) and Graham Spence (R)
Image caption The three men Noel (L), Nevin (centre) and Graham Spence (R) were overcome by gas

Details have emerged of how three members of the Spence family died during an accident at their farm outside Hillsborough last year.

They were revealed during the inquest into their deaths.

Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham died after entering a slurry tank on their farm on 15 September, 2012.

The inquest heard that Graham Spence was the first to enter the tank in an attempt to rescue a dog.

After being told the dog was in the tank, Graham got a ladder and dropped it down a manhole into it.

He then went down into the tank which had about four feet of slurry in it.

The hearing heard after about 20 seconds of Graham calling for the collie dog he came back up the ladder, but as his head was just at the level of manhole, he fell back into the tank.

Nevin went in after him and he too became overcome by the slurry fumes before their 58-year-old father Noel went down the ladder and also lost consciousness.

Friends, neighbours and family members, including Mrs Essie Spence, all tried to get the men out of the tank.

Emma Rice, a sister of the two brothers who had just left the house, returned after seeing cars speed up to it.

In her statement which was read out to the court, she said she heard someone say "they are all in the tank".

She went down into the tank and managed to find her father and pulled him up the ladder with the help of others.

She then started first aid on him before going back into the pit.

Emma found her 30-year-old brother Graham in the darkness and had started to pull him up the ladder when she felt faint and lost consciousness.

A neighbour rescued her and Graham was also eventually pulled out.

A fire officer with breathing apparatus found Nevin and the dog in the tank.

'Love of your family'

Noel and Nevin were pronounced dead at the scene, while Graham was taken to Lagan Valley Hospital where he later died.

Emma was treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital and when the coroner John Leckey asked how her health was now, she replied "I have a few pains but as my dad would say, it's far from my heart".

Mr Leckey asked was she aware of the dangers of what she did and she said "Yes, but when it comes to the love of your family..."

She went on to thank those who rescued her.

Mr Leckey said her actions and the rescue attempts by others were very brave.

There are more than 25 witnesses to give evidence during the inquest which is due to finish on Tuesday.

Among those to be called will be immediate members of the Spence family, friends, neighbours - many of whom have known the family for years.

Members of the emergency services are also to give evidence along with the NI Heath and Safety Executive.

The inquest has now been adjourned for the day.

Nevin Spence, who was 22, was considered one of the up-and-coming stars of the Ulster team and had been widely regarded as a future Ireland international.

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