A FARMER was to blame when an employee lost part of a finger in a sugar beet machine, a court heard.

Frederick Tyler, of Tennyson Way, Kidderminster, had a finger severed at the knuckle when he reached onto a moving conveyor belt to remove large stones from beet which was being collected.

Farmer Peter Butler, of Yieldingtree Farm, Broome, admitted failing to ensure the filtering machine was being safely operated to Kidderminster magistrates.

David McIlroy, prosecuting, said the machine was a safe piece of equipment when used properly, but the "system of work used was dangerous and unsafe".

Earth and stones were filtered out of the sugar beet by holes in the conveyor belt, but Mr Tyler had been standing below the belt and removing larger stones from the beet as it dropped down.

He stood on the pile of beet and reached up to take a stone directly off the conveyor belt when one of his fingers became trapped and was partially severed.

Defence solicitor Adrian Harling said Mr Butler, 70, had reported the incident to the Health and Safety Executive, which had brought the prosecution, and had helped the investigation.

Mr Butler had been a farmer since he left school in 1945 and had run the 600-acre Yieldingtree Farm for 38 years.

He had an exemplary safety record, Mr Harling added.

He had reported a £75,000 loss in the year leading up to March 2000 as he had lost 70 per cent of his income on beef cattle, 50 per cent on cereals and potatoes and 30 per cent on beet.

"In the real world it is not always possible to have your eyes and ears in every position on the farm.

"Farmers have to trust their employees to be sensible and to operate machinery in an appropriate way," Mr Harling said, adding that Mr Tyler would be fully compensated for the injury through insurance.

Magistrates fined Mr Butler £500 with £500 costs, saying they had taken into account his co-operation and that the machine was in good working order.