Woman who died after being hit by horse costume in parade may have been injured in earlier fight

Laura Smallwood died in Derriford Hospital on May 4 2019
Laura Smallwood died in Derriford Hospital on May 4 2019

Laura Smallwood, 34, died three days after she fell unconscious shortly after being hit in the neck by a costume at the 'Obby 'Oss festival in Padstow, Cornwall

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A woman who died after being hit by a horse costume during a traditional Cornish May Day parade may have died from an injury suffered in an earlier scuffle, an inquest has heard.

Laura Smallwood fell unconscious shortly after being hit in the neck by the costume – a large wooden circle worn by a masked male dancer making his way through the town, Cornwall’s coroner was told on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old paediatric nurse died in Derriford Hospital on May 4 2019, three days after the centuries-old ‘Obby ‘Oss festival was held in Padstow.

While the incident may have caused Mrs Smallwood’s death, she may also have been hit in the head during a row with another woman earlier in the day, senior coroner Andrew Cox said.

The cause of her death was made even more mysterious by a medical report which asked whether an existing injury, from days or weeks before, could have been to blame, the inquest was told.

Mrs Smallwood was involved in a “scuffle” with another woman at about 6.15pm on the day of the parade, the inquest heard.

The woman, who was in an argument with her boyfriend and another boy, said she pushed Mrs Smallwood when she tried to intervene, the coroner was told.

One witness described hearing a “wallop” or a “slap” when the woman made contact with Mrs Smallwood and recalled seeing her sunglasses fly off her head and into the road.

Mrs Smallwood’s husband Oliver told the court his wife was a “very happy”, “strong-willed”, “really fun”, and “very caring” woman.
Mrs Smallwood’s husband Oliver told the court his wife was a “very happy”, “strong-willed”, “really fun”, and “very caring” woman.

Kirsten Norfolk, a local priest, said she remembered seeing a mark on her friend Mrs Smallwood’s forehead afterwards.

However, Mrs Smallwood “seemed fine” and “laughed it off”.

Another witness, Sian Howells, told the court that, around an hour later, she saw the hobby horse – known as the ‘Obby ‘Oss or just ‘Oss – make a “significant impact” with the back of Mrs Smallwood’s neck when its carrier fell.

Minutes later, Mrs Smallwood complained she was “dizzy” before the right side of her face began “drooping”, her breathing became “laboured”, and she turned “really white or blue” and lost consciousness.

A woman began CPR before paramedics arrived, the inquest heard.

Mrs Smallwood’s husband Oliver told the court his wife was a “very happy”, “strong-willed”, “really fun”, and “very caring” woman.

He recalled working in a local pub at around 7pm when he received a phone call telling him she had been “knocked out” and “had been hit by the ‘Oss”.

Mr Smallwood was initially told she was “OK” but, when he arrived in a nearby field where she was, he saw people trying to resuscitate her.

“I could already see that Laura was lying on the ground,” he said.

“She was having CPR administered to her.”

Mr Smallwood told the inquest he accompanied Laura by air ambulance to hospital, where he was first told the situation was “positive” because medics could not find any damage, though they were unsure of why she was deeply unconscious.

Kevin Constance, the man in the horse, told the inquest the fullness of risk assessments have been increased “to a degree”.

He said: “Can I offer my sincere condolences and sympathies to the family? This isn’t the sort of thing that I wanted to happen.”

In June 2019, police said they would not be charging anyone in relation to Mrs Smallwood’s death.

The inquest continues.