British soldier tried to climb tree to flee fatal elephant charge, inquest told

The soldier died aged 22 during an anti-poaching patrol in Malawi in 2019

Lamiat Sabin
Tuesday 19 October 2021 03:23
Comments
<p>Guardsman Mathew Talbot</p>

Guardsman Mathew Talbot

A soldier that was killed by a charging elephant had tried to climb a tree to escape, his comrade said in an inquest that started today.

Coldstream Guardsman Mathew Talbot, from Great Barr in the West Midlands, died from his injuries on 5 May 2019 while on an eight-day and five-man anti-poaching patrol in Liwonde National Park in Malawi.

The patrol leader, Lance Sergeant Robert Padgham, told Oxford Coroner’s Court how he and Gdsm Talbot, 22, had to climb trees to escape the elephant stampede.

In evidence to the hearing via video-link, he said – reading from a statement: “I recall that we were patrolling directly west.

“At about 10.00 hours we were patrolling through elephant grass, which is roughly seven feet in height and visibility is limited.

“An elephant appeared roughly five metres to my right.”

He told the inquest that he, LSgt Padgham, and the three park rangers began running in different directions.

The soldier said: “The lead ranger gave the signal for dangerous game to the front. We started to back off and then from my right it came charging through so we just dispersed, like we were taught.”

As Gdsm Talbot attempted to climb a “prominent branch” of a tree, he was being “thrown” and “knocked” into the air by an elephant making a sweeping movement with its head – LSgt Padgham told the court.

LSgt Padgham, who also climbed a tree to escape, said he went down to the ground to pull Gdsm Talbot into the cover of a tree, before giving first aid, and helping to carry him on a stretcher to a vehicle pick-up point.

He said that, at some point during the elephant charge, he had lit and thrown a firecracker in an attempt to scare the herd away.

Soldiers on anti-poaching patrols had been taught to fire warning shots, to scare away animals, only as a last resort – LSgt Padgham added.

But he said that we “would have fired a warning shot” if he were “in a position to” do so in that situation.

In explaining why he had not fired a warning shot after his climbed a tree during the elephant stampede, LSgt Padgham said: “The sharpshooter [rifle] is quite long-barrelled.

“I was hanging on the tree with one hand. I didn’t want to fire a shot in the direction where the animal was in case of hitting Mathew.”

A report into Gdsm Talbot’s death had identified the “leadership and personal strength” of LSgt Padgham in evacuating his comrade on a stretcher and controlling a haemorrhage as being “initially life-saving” – the inquest heard.

Statements were read to the hearing on behalf of the three park rangers who took part in the patrol.

One of the rangers said he fired a warning shot to scare off an elephant after he was aware of it running towards him.

The inquest, sitting without a jury, follows a Ministry of Defence (MoD) service inquiry, published last year, which highlighted shortcomings in estimating how long it would take to get a casualty from a remote location to the nearest hospital.

In September 2019, the Duke of Sussex laid a wreath for Gdsm Talbot at a memorial during a visit to Liwonde National Park.

His handwritten message attached to the wreath read: “In grateful memory of Guardsman Talbot who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country and conservation. Rest in Peace.”

The inquest will hear evidence over two weeks, covering the command and management of the incident, preparation and procedures in force in Malawi, and the resources available at the time.

The hearing continues.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in