Farmer is ordered by court to stay away from women

A CHICKEN farmer has been banned from being alone with women on his farm for the next 10 years.

Cecil Harding was charged with three cases of sexual assault, but his trial on Monday was cancelled after one of the key witnesses was hit by a bale of hay and was unable to give evidence.

And the two women who had accused him of molesting them at his farm in Wolvershill Road, Banwell, have told the Mercury they are frustrated at not being able to give their evidence in court.

The accusations, that the 78-year-old, who is known locally as Bert, had groped the two women at Stonebridge Farm in 2009 and 2010, first came to light in 2010. He denied all the charges.

Two trials were cancelled at Bristol Crown Court after concerns were raised about his health, with the third scheduled to start on Monday.

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One of the two accusers is Zanda Harding, who has waived her automatic right to anonymity to speak to the Mercury about the past two years.

She was taking a bale of hay from the back of a lorry on Sunday, when it fell and knocked her out.

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After treatment at Weston General Hospital for concussion, she was discharged but told by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday morning that she was in no fit state to give evidence.

Instead of delaying the trial, Judge David Ticehurst decided to impose the restraining order on Mr Harding, which could only be achieved by passing a not guilty verdict on one of the counts.

The other two will lie on file, but the CPS has said if there is any breach of the order it will resurrect the charges.

As part of the order, Mr Harding is not allowed to have any unaccompanied females on his property, apart from his relatives and people collecting eggs from the roadside at the farm.

Zanda, aged 35, said: “I am disappointed that I was unable to stand in court and give evidence which was important.

“But I am pleased with the order that was handed out by the judge.”

The other accuser, who wanted to be referred to only as Rebecca Elizabeth, said: “I am disgusted with the way the three trials happened. I have no faith in the courts anymore, I really don’t.

“On each of the occasions a trial was scheduled and was then cancelled, my boyfriend had to close his work and lose money to come to court with me, and now he won’t be able to get compensation as I didn’t give evidence. It’s disgusting.”

The CPS’ Crown Advocate, James Ward, said: “In considering the public interest element, given the defendant’s age and ill health, the CPS agreed with the judge that the justice of this case was met with the use of a restraining order against the defendant.

“This shows that regardless of age, health or previous good character, the CPS will always seek to prosecute crimes of this nature if there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.”

The Mercury approached Mr Harding, but he declined to comment.

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