A witness told the jury that she had found the body of Mr Handa in pieces after he fell beneath the sharp blades of the tractor-driven mower at the Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes. Venita Slater said that moments before his death she had seen him running after the driverless machine as it pulled away from him while he was out mowing lawns in the 12-acre grounds of the peace centre that he had set up nearly 30 years ago.
The monk had been dragged under the blades as he tried to get into the cab and regain control of the machine, she said. His remains were found on the slope after the vehicle ran over his entire body, killing him instantly.
The jury at the inquest, held in Milton Keynes on Friday, was told that Mrs Slater had been walking with her two children last August when she saw Mr Handa in the grounds, running after the mower. “The tractor was running away and he was chasing it to stop it. But unfortunately he didn’t. I looked up but he had disappeared. I ran over to see if he was OK, but unfortunately he was not.” Emergency services were called and a crane was used to lift the grass-cutter off his body.
A postmortem examination disclosed that Mr Handa had died of multiple injuries.
The inquest was told that it was not known why Mr Handa had got out of the tractor while it was still moving. It was thought that he slipped on the wet grass when he was trying to leap back in the cab, and that he became caught under the three sets of blades.
Taran Hewitt, of the Health and Safety Executive, said that officials had inspected the diesel vehicle and found that it should not have been in service. The ratchet on the handbrake was not working and the brakes were not able to hold the tractor steady.
The footbrake also did not work and Mr Hewitt said: “The only way you could get the tractor to stay stationary was to turn the engine off and leave it in gear. It should not have been used.”
Mr Handa, who was aged 50, was in charge of maintenance of the tractor and was responsible for cutting the grass in the grounds of the temple.
Born in Japan, he had become a Buddhist monk at the age of 21 and was ordained at a peace pagoda in Sri Lanka. He travelled the world, promoting peace and building peace pagodas. He had arrived in Milton Keynes in the winter of 1978 and built the city’s peace pagoda, helped by nuns and volunteers. The temple was later built next to the pagoda.
The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Rodney Corner, the Milton Keynes Coroner, said: “It is not wholly clear what happened. Nobody actually saw what happened. Blood and other parts of his body were dragged behind the tractor. He had got out of the cab and desperately tried to get back into the cab. We don’t know why perhaps there was a cutter malfunction in some way.
“What must have happened was that he tried to get back in but he slipped. He must have slipped on wet grass. It was just an unfortunate accident which was such a great shame.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said that 6,500 people in Britain needed hospital treatment last year after being injured by lawnmowers.