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Accident verdict

PUBLISHED: 17:54 14 August 2008 | UPDATED: 07:35 01 August 2010

A Worlingham woman may have let her dogs off their leads shortly before being trampled to death by cows, an inquest heard on Friday.

Sandra Pearce, 45, died in April after she was trampled by cattle while walking her dogs in South Elmham.

A Worlingham woman may have let her dogs off their leads shortly before being trampled to death by cows, an inquest heard on Friday.

Sandra Pearce, 45, died in April after she was trampled by cattle while walking her dogs in South Elmham. The inquest heard that Ms Pearce was walking her two Jack Russell dogs in the grounds of South Elmham Hall before she was found dead in a field.

There were no witnesses to the incident, just before 3pm on April 27, but visitors to the hall's café knew something had happened when one of Ms Pearce's dogs ran indoors shaking and with what appeared to be a broken leg.

A statement from farm owner John Sanderson, which was read at the hearing at Lowestoft, said that he heard unusual bellowing noises coming from Simmental beef cows in a field near the café and went to see what was going on.

About 25 cows - a mix of Simmental and British Whites, which are known for their gentle nature - were gathered round Ms Pearce's body, which was about 30 yards from the footpath, and Mr Sanderson tried to resuscitate her while the emergency services were called.

A post mortem found that Ms Pearce, who was a probation worker and had been working in Lowestoft since February 2006, died from injuries which were consistent with being struck by something large and heavy.

Visitors who saw Ms Pearce walking her dogs at the hall said that the dogs were on leads when she set off from the car park, but by the time the dog appeared in the café just after 3pm, it was wearing a collar but no lead.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and a report by the HSE's principal inspector Eddie Scoggins, read out at the inquest, said that signs at both entrances to the field stated that dogs should be kept on leads. “I understand that she generally kept her dogs on their leads. I am unable to say whether one of the dogs slipped its lead or whether they just walked too near to the cows.

“Incidents like this happen once or twice a year and - more often than not - involve a dog,” he said.

Suffolk coroner Peter Dean recorded a verdict of accidental death. He said: “We have no direct evidence as to whether she actually removed the leads or whether the dogs somehow slipped the leads.

“What seems to have happened is a very tragic accident and, some way or another, the cattle were disturbed, causing them to behave in this very uncharacteristic manner.”

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