Great Barr soldier tried to climb tree to escape fatal elephant charge, inquest told

Mathew Talbot died in May 2019 while serving with an anti-poaching initiative in Malawi.

Mathew Talbot
Mathew Talbot

A comrade of a Coldstream Guardsman killed in an elephant charge in Malawi has told an inquest how the soldier was attacked as he tried to climb a tree in a bid to escape.

Lance Sergeant Robert Padgham told Oxford Coroner’s Court how he pulled injured Guardsman Mathew Talbot into cover, before providing medical assistance and helping to carry him on a stretcher to a vehicle pick-up point.

An inquest which started on Monday was told 22-year-old Gdsm Talbot, from Great Barr, suffered fatal injuries while navigating as part of an eight-day, five-man anti-poaching patrol in Liwonde National Park in Malawi on May 5 2019.

Patrol Leader LSgt Padgham gave evidence to the hearing via video-link, explaining that he was forced to twice climb a tree to ensure he was not injured by a number of elephants.

The soldier, who used two firecrackers in an attempt to scare away the animals, said in a statement read to the court: “I recall that we were patrolling directly west.

Guardsman Mathew Talbot
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, who was killed while on an anti-poaching patrol (MoD/PA)

“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.”

The inquest was told that both soldiers and three park rangers began running in different directions, and as Gdsm Talbot attempted to climb a “prominent branch” of the tree, he was seen being “thrown” and “knocked” into the air.

LSgt Padgham described the actions of the elephant as a sweeping motion with its head.

The witness told the court he had then lit and thrown a firecracker in an attempt to scare a group of elephants away, and they initially left the immediate scene.

A memorial erected to Guardsman Talbot
A memorial erected to Guardsman Talbot in Liwonde National Park (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

LSgt Padgham, who immediately began first aid, said: “As I went down to him initially, I dragged him into the cover of that tree.”

Asked how suddenly the incident had occurred, the soldier went on: “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.”

LSgt Padgham said soldiers on anti-poaching patrols had been taught to fire warning shots, to scare away animals posing a danger, only as a last resort.

But he added: “In my mind personally, if an attack like that happened and I was in a position to, I would have fired a warning shot.”

The Duke of Sussex
The Duke of Sussex lays a wreath in tribute to Guardsman Talbot 2019 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Explaining why he had not fired a warning shot after climbing into a tree during the elephant attack, he added: “The sharp shooter 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.”

The inquest was told a report into the death had identified the “leadership and personal strength” of LSgt Padgham in evacuating Gdsm Talbot on a stretcher and controlling a haemorrhage as being “initially life-saving”.

The first day of the inquest was also told Gdsm Talbot died from complications of chest and soft tissue injuries.

Statements were read to the hearing on behalf of the three park rangers who took part in the patrol, including one who said he was aware of an elephant “chasing me personally” – prompting him to fire a warning shot to scare it away.

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 honoured the sacrifice of Gdsm Talbot by laying a wreath at a memorial during a visit to Liwonde National Park.

The duke’s 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 resources available at the time.

The hearing continues.

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