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British soldier, 22, died after he was tossed 20ft into the air on tusks of elephant

A British soldier died after he was tossed 20ft in the air on the tusks of an elephant which charged at him in African grassland, an inquest heard today.

Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 22, was on his first tour with the Coldstream Guards to Malawi in southern Africa when he and colleagues embarked on an anti-poaching patrol.

At today's inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court, Lieutenant Sergeant Robert Padgham said the tragedy occurred as a group of five solders were conducting the patrol at Liwonde National Park at around 10am on May 5, 2019.

Lt Sgt Padgham told the hearing that Guardsman Talbot was second in line and helping to navigate the team when they found themselves in a patch of long foliage known as elephant grass.

He said: 'We were going through a patch of elephant grass when the lead man identified elephants about 30 metres in front. 

'We started to back off before another elephant appeared about five metres to our right.

'We started running and I believe Mathew started following me and I ran for about 50 metres to a tree which I started climbing. 

'I heard a scream and observed an elephant throwing Mathew about 20ft into the air.'

Guardsman Mathew Talbot of the 1st Battalion the Coldstream Guards was fatally injured in the incident in Liwonde National Park in Malawai on May 5, 2019

Mathew Talbot was helping anti-poaching efforts in Malawi when he was attacked and killed by an elephant in tall grass

Soldiers from the Coldstream Guards are pictured in Malawi in April

The soldier explained that the elephant had attacked Guardsman Talbot while he was in the tree, sweeping its head up for through the branches and flinging him into the air on its tusks.

He continued: 'I observed about 20 to 30 elephants and ran straight towards Matthew. He was bleeding heavily and I applied a tourniquet to the area and then I heard the elephants returning.'

The coroner heard that Lt Sgt Padgham then managed to drag his seriously injured colleague into some nearby bushes before swiftly climbing a tree to get out of harm's way.

The hearing was told that three local rangers, Bright Banda, Kondwani Sibande and Mark Semu, had scattered as they tried to escape from other elephants that were bearing down on them. They quickly returned to the scene and fired warning shots to disperse the beasts and then began to help.

Mr Banda told the inquest that when he arrived on the scene: 'Lt Sgt Padgham was giving first aid but he requested a vehicle to evacuate Mathew. We had to meet the vehicle about one kilometre away.

'We put Mathew on a stretcher and carried him.'

After rushing him to the vehicle, the four men handed their comrade's care over to medics who had accompanied the vehicle. Despite the best efforts of those on the ground, Guardsman Talbot tragically died more than four hours after the attack, without ever reaching a hospital.

Home Office pathologist Dr Russell Delaney told the hearing that he had been left with three different injuries consistent with being gored by the elephant's tusks, including one on his scalp.

He also had significant injuries to his chest, including a broken voice box, as well as a broken left arm and right thigh.

An African elephant is pictured above in Liwonde National Park. A consultant-led post-mortem examination found the young soldier's death was 'not preventable' given the circumstances

When asked whether the Guardsman could have survived the injuries, Dr Delaney said: 'When viewed in absolute isolation, they were survivable but this is dependent on the context they are sustained. There was delay due to the herd of elephants. It would appear that those who were with him took the appropriate action.

'Because of the context in which they were sustained and the difficulties of that scenario, he didn't survive his injuries despite the treatment provided.'

Mr Talbot's family also asked the pathologist if the injuries could have been caused in only one attack or two. The doctor explained: 'There are three areas that look like tusk penetrations to me.

'Whether that can be explained by a single incident involving more than one elephant or if there had been more than one encounter, I can't explain that.

'The injury to the chest could be explained by him being thrown and landing very heavily.'

The pathologist found that Guardsman Talbot's death was caused by complications from soft tissue injuries.

Soldiers are seen carrying the coffin of their colleague Mathew Talbot at the Kamuzu International Airport, in the capital Lilongwe in May last year

A report by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had been critical of the army's care. It found that they took too long to get Guardsman Talbot to hospital and had made errors in their medical timeline. A number of procedural changes were made following the incident.

Speaking after the initial hearing Mr Talbot's parents, Steven and Michelle, had said: 'When Matt passed away it was four hours and 17 minutes after the attack and it would have taken at least another three hours to get to the hospital in Blantyre.

'Those that are responsible for putting these risk assessments in place should hang their heads in shame if they think this is adequate for our brave serving soldiers who are prepared to put their lives on the line for Queen and country.

'This is not just about justice for Matt but also the lives of all the other brave soldiers, as we do not want other families to go through this.'

Brigadier Ben Cattermole, Commander 11 Brigade, said: 'The welfare of our personnel is of the utmost importance and the MoD has accepted all of the recommendations in this report, including robust training to better assess the risk of animal attack and fully rehearsing medical procedures before operations begin.

'We have already put in place plans to implement these recommendations and changes will be made as soon as possible.

'The MoD will review the coroner's findings when available and address any additional recommendations.'

The inquest, which is due to last all week, was adjourned until tomorrow.