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Bullfighting umpire gored in 'safety zone'

Official fights for his life after runaway beast attacks him in Carcassonne

In a freak accident, witnessed by more than 10,000 people, the large grey bull penetrated the callejon, or fenced-off area between the arena and the stands. Christian Baile, 55, the ceremonial umpire or alguazil of the Carcassonne bullfighting association, was gored in the thigh. As officials tried to pull him away, the bull smashed into the protected zone a second time, goring the prostrate Mr Baile in the chest and abdomen.

The umpire, a well-known local horse-breeder and former rugby league player, was on life support last night at the Carcassonne hospital. The bull which attacked him was slaughtered in the ring after the incident. After some heated debate, it was decided that the rest of the feria, or bullfight, should go ahead.

Although injuries to matadors in the ring are relatively common, it is rare for a bull to force its way into the protected corridor where bullfighters, officials and press photographers shelter from the action. Questions were being asked yesterday about the safety precautions at the French venue.

The man ultimately responsible for ensuring the application of bullfighting rules – including safety regulations – was Mr Baile himself as the local alguazil. Three quarters of an hour before the accident, he had started the proceedings by riding into the ring wearing a black uniform and plumed black hat.

One local bull-fighting official said that such accidents, although rare, were not unknown. "It is part of the risks of the sport," he said. "The alguazil is a professional who knows the danger that he is exposed to inside the callejon."

The grey Spanish bull, said to weigh almost half a ton, had just entered the ring for the second contest of the last night of the annual Carcassonne bull-fighting festival. In other words, the animal had not yet been crippled and weakened by having spears thrust into its neck and shoulders by picadors, the horse-borne bull-fighters.

Witnesses said that there was panic when the bull charged into the protected corridor for the first time, slightly injuring Mr Baile. Someone had the presence of mind to open a gate to allow the bull to escape back into the ring. But before anyone could stop it, the animal forced its way back into the protected perimeter of the ring, goring Mr Baile severely as he lay on the ground.

Bullfighting in the Spanish style, to the death of the bull (La Corrida) is technically illegal in France but permitted in areas which have an "unbroken" local tradition. This exception to the law has been interpreted broadly by French courts which have allowed bullfighting to be reintroduced to several towns in the souh west in the last two decades. One of these towns is Carcassonne, where Mr Baile was one of the leading figures in the revival of bullfighting 10 years ago.