An 87-year-old woman walking her dog was killed by a herd of “berserk” cattle in West Sussex, a coroner has heard.
Hillary Adair was knocked to the ground and trampled by Belted Galloway cattle at Linchmere Common and repeatedly attacked by the animals as she tried to stand up, the inquest in Crawley heard.
She was airlifted to St George’s Hospital in south London, but never regained consciousness and died a week later.
The inquest heard the attack on Ms Adair came the day after a couple had also been attacked by the same herd of cattle and had reported it to the company which owned them.
Ms Adair’s daughter said her mother would never have gone onto the common if she was aware the cattle were “spooked”.
Bryony Dillamore witnessed the attack on Ms Adair when she was walking her dog on 7 January.
She said: “I didn’t see any signs to indicate that it was not safe to enter the common.
“I then noticed that the cattle surrounding what I then understood was an elderly person ... with blood all over her head and chest.”
Ms Dillamore said that every time Ms Adair moved, the cattle became more aggressive towards her.
She immediately called the ambulance service and others and eventually Mrs Adair was able to be rescued from the herd.
“I believe the cattle were completely out of control,” she added.
Rachel Thompson told the inquest how she and her husband Carl were set upon by the same cattle herd the day before.
“We were just walking and chatting and that is when we kind of got the sensation that some cows had come behind us and they were very, very close to us.
“We had heard one bellowing and my husband said ‘Run!’ and we did.
“One of them hit me in the right side of the ribs and knocked me flying. I was lying there terrified. I was waiting to be trampled, I was bracing myself for it.”
But her husband managed to beat the animals away with a stick while she scrambled to her feet.
The attack continued, however, and it was some time before the couple managed to escape the field.
Mr Thompson – who was left bleeding from his injuries – said the cattle had “gone berserk”.
The couple contacted the Lynchmere Society, which owns the common, and were put in touch with Lynchmere Community Grazing CIC, the company which owns and looks after the cattle.
Edwin Brooks, one of the directors of the grazing company and who cares for the cattle, said that they examined the livestock that night, but at that point were not aware of the seriousness of the attack on Mr and Ms Thompson.
He told the inquest: “I thought this was an isolated incident.”
The cattle were moved to another area of the common and Mr Brooks and his colleague made plans to “monitor the situation” and check on the cattle the next morning.
The next day Ms Adair and her dog were attacked by the herd, with fatal consequences.
Senior coroner Penelope Schofield returned a conclusion of accidental death and said the incident should lead to greater awareness of the potential risks posed by cattle.
She said: “We will never really know what prompted either the attack on Mr and Mrs Thompson or on Mrs Adair.
“Mrs Adair was particularly vulnerable. She really didn’t stand a chance against a herd of agitated cows.”
The cattle have now been moved to private land with no public access routes.
Following the inquest, the Lynchmere Society and Lynchmere Community Grazing CIC issued a joint statement.
They said: “The Lynchmere Society and Lynchmere Community Grazing are voluntary organisations who act in the interests of environmental conservation and community benefit.
“Both organisations offer their sincerest condolences to Hilary’s family.
“Everyone in the community was shocked and deeply saddened by these tragic events and the loss of a valued friend and local figure.
“The safety of the public and animal welfare are of paramount importance to us.
“Very serious discussion between our organisations and ongoing dialogue with the family and our membership within the community will be had going forward before any decision regarding future grazing activities on the commons are made.”
Additional reporting by PA
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies