Woman died after being hit by hobby horse’ costume at festival



A woman tragically died after she was struck by a traditional hobby horse costume during a traditional May Day festival in Cornwall.

Nurse Laura Smallwood, 34, was airlifted to Derriford Hospital after the incident where she died a few days later, an inquest heard. On May 1, 2019, a parade featuring hobby horses was going through the town.

The large oval frames of an ‘obby oss’ are decorated in black oilskin with a small horse’s head at the front featuring a snapping jaw. Laura’s husband, Oliver, gave the first piece of evidence before senior coroner for Cornwall, Andrew Cox, on Tuesday (April 6), Cornwall Live reports.

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He described his wife as “very caring” and “very strong” while also always amazing him, adding “she was really happy and a fun kind of person”. Mr Smallwood and Mr Cox spoke of how two losses go through the streets during the parade with one blue and one red while spectators divide into two lines depending on what color they are.

Mr Smallwood told the inquest he was informed by around 7pm that Laura had been hit by the loss and that she was knocked out. Initially, he was told she was okay and quickly walked up to Stile Field where he saw Laura lying on the ground.

He attended her in the air ambulance to Derriford but her condition quickly deteriorated over a few days until she tragically passed away on May 4, 2019. Laura’s friend was next to provide evidence. Priest Kirsten Norfolk spoke of how she and Laura with others shared a couple of bottles of wine before going into Padstow swuare to watch the celebrations.

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Ms Norfolk remarked she was very busy and Laura became involved in an argument with Chelsea Powell and a male who was with her. The argument culminated in Ms Powell striking Laura and leaving a mark.

Ms Norfolk said “it was over as quick as it started” and everybody laughed and shrugged it off. Ms Norfolk added that she arranged to meet with Laura shortly after the celebration, saying: I tried ringing her and there was no answer. I was told Laura was crying and had been hit by the oss. A number of people were with her so I thought she’d be ok. People get bumped by the oss all the time so she assumed she’d be fine.

“I could see something in the distance where we left Laura and ran back and could only watch her be taken away by medical staff for treatment. I didn’t see her get hit in the first incident or by the oss.”

Another witness, Michael Dennick, was also present when the argument took place and he described hearing a slap and then seeing Laura’s head go back and her sunglasses go flying. Laura’s cousin, Rosie Howells, provided a similar account stating Laura got involved in the argument after a child was knocked in her face.

She said Ms Powell told Laura to not get involved with Laura then trying to diffuse the heated situation. Ms Howells also noted that they were separated and the argument quickly ended with groups dispersing and laughing it off while Laura appeared fine.

Ms Powell’s boyfriend, Jack Jones, claims he didn’t remember much of the day due to alcohol consumption and the time that has passed since but said he does recall shoulder barging someone in the crowd leading to an argument between Laura and Ms Powell.

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Giving evidence late morning on the first day of the inquest, Ms Powell said she’d been at the social club for most of the day before heading into town. She recalled the streets were busy and Mr Jones was chasing after her following a disagreement between her and her brother de ella, causing them to leave the social club.

She said: “I recall walking through town and Jack not being there. I saw him arguing with someone so I went and had a go at this person. Laura grabbed my arm from her so I shoved her in the face and said something along the lines of basically ‘do not effing touch me’. ”

The inquest then went on to hear evidence relating to Laura being struck by the oss. Sian Howells said that she first saw Laura at 6:10pm, but she was very mad and angry which was completely out of character.

Ms Howells said: “I saw Laura again at 7pm at Chapel Stile field, there were lots of people and the procession was huge. The person in the oss was swapped and I watched the changeover take place. All of a sudden the oss moved backwards which was very unusual and I now know it was because of a fall.

“Laura had her back to the oss. One thing we are always taught is not to have your back to the oss and Laura would have known this. I thought it was very unusual and she would have known better. I could see what was going to happen but couldn’t do anything. I saw the oss hit her and thought that’s going to hurt.

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“It struck me as odd that she didn’t acknowledge being struck by the oss. I found her behavior from her on that day completely out of character.

One more friend recalled how things happened so fast, but after being hit by the oss, Laura said it only hurt a little and remained standing. It was only a short while later when Laura grabbed her friend’s arm and said she needed to go home due to a dizzy feeling.

Shortly after that, medical help was sought. The inquest also head that when Laura was hit by the oss, she was fit and well from the incident involving Ms Powell. The inquest – which is expected to last three days – continues.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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