A mother of two who died after being struck by a wooden horse costume during a Cornish May Day festival had ‘her back to it but should have known to face it with her hands out’, an inquest has heard.
Laura Smallwood was knocked down by the Obby Oss – one of a pair used in the festival – in Padstow, north Cornwall, on May 1, 2019.
A witness told Cornwall Coroners’ Court today how she saw her get hit in the back of the neck by the man in the blue outfit but said that she had ‘carried on as normal’.
Her condition later deteriorated and she died three days later in the hospital she used to work at as a paediatric nurse in Plymouth.
An inquest is looking into whether she passed away due to the impact or if an altercation with a woman earlier in the day played a part.
Meanwhile Ms Smallwood’s husband Oliver wants the court to find whether the event management was organised adequately.
The Obby Oss is made from a two metre wooden frame covered in black oilskin with a small horse’s head in the front.
There is a blue one known as the Peace Oss who tries to discourage the over consumption of alcohol by supporters of the Red Oss.
There are two separate processions that go around Padstow on circuits that takes 12 hours.
Laura Smallwood (pictured) was knocked out by the Obby Oss, one of a pair used in one of the oldest festivals held at Padstow, north Cornwall, on May 1, 2019
Witness Sian Howells told the hearing it was at the point where the two met that she saw Ms Smallwood (pictured) ‘very rude and angry and I had never seen her like it before’
Obby Oss horses are large oval frames covered in black oilskin, which have a small horse’s head at the front with a snapping jaw
Witness Sian Howells told the hearing Ms Smallwood got ‘very rude and angry and I had never seen her like it before’ at the part of the route where the two outfits crossed over.
She said she was six feet away from her when the Oss started to dance. She said: ‘Laura had gone behind the Oss.
‘All of a sudden the Oss moved backwards. It is very unusual for it to go backwards. As it fell Laura was standing with her back to the Oss.
‘The one thing you are always told is not to have your back to the Oss. Most people face the Oss with their hands out.
‘Laura would have known better. I could see it coming towards her, the rim of the Oss hitting the back of her neck.’
She said the band was playing and Ms Smallwood would not have heard her warning. ‘I could see what was going to happen but I could do nothing.’
She said she could see the Oss hit her head with a significant impact which would hurt and knock her over.
She said: ‘She was knocked over and it looked like she fell to the ground. She carried on as normal and she had not been hit as hard as I thought.’
The man in the Oss had fallen over to but got up and the procession moved on but she did not see Ms Smallwood after that.
Another witness, Charlotte Stupple, said Ms Smallwood had been laughing about a ‘scuffle’ earlier with a young woman called Chelsea Powell.
But she said: ‘The person carrying the Oss must have slipped and the frame came down towards all of us. I did not see the Oss hit Laura.’
She said Ms Smallwood said she was okay, saying ‘I hurt a little bit’ and rubbed the back of her head once or twice.
But then she grabbed her arm saying she felt dizzy and thought the giddiness was caused by the drink.
‘Thirty seconds later Laura grabbed my arm and said ”Charlotte, my face”. I could see the right side of her face by her mouth had dropped.’
Ms Howells said the band was playing and Ms Smallwood (pictured) would not have heard her warning. ‘I could see what was going to happen but I could do nothing’
Ms Smallwood was conscious of people looking at her and she said: ‘My head is hurting.’
Her breathing was laboured and Ms Stupple looked away as emergency crews tended to Ms Smallwood before she was flown to hospital.
The inquest was told her death may have been caused by injuries during a number of different incidents.
The coroner said one of the issues was whether she died due to injuries sustained when the Oss fell on her while it was being carried by a man called Kevin Constance.
He said another explanation was she suffered injuries caused during an altercation with Powell earlier that evening which happened outside Rick Stein’s patisserie.
The coroner said Ms Smallwood may have suffered injuries caused by an unidentified event around ten days earlier, or the fourth possibility was she suffered some injuries in ‘some other way’.
Her husband Oliver also wanted to know if the event management was organised adequately and whether any changes have been made.
The inquest at Cornwall coroner’s court in Truro heard Ms Smallwood was a paediatric nurse who had returned to live in Padstow and had worked in the hospital where she died.
Her husband said she was a caring, fun, happy and strong person who had no medical conditions or illnesses.
The court was told the May Day festival is a long standing celebration to welcome the summer and is ‘part and parcel of Padstow’.
Mr Smallwood said the Blue Ribbon Oss, known as the Peace Oss, travelled through the town along with the older Red Oss – and Ms Smallwood supported the latter.
He said he received a phone call at work in a pub at 7pm that night saying Ms Smallwood had been ‘knocked out’. He went to find her ‘lying on the ground’.
He said she was being given CPR and an air ambulance then arrived to fly her to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.
Another witness, Charlotte Stupple, said Ms Smallwood (pictured with her friends) had been laughing about a ‘scuffle’ earlier with a young woman called Chelsea Powell
The inquest heard ‘it was unclear where she was exactly struck’ but her condition deteriorated and she died on May 4.
One of her friends, priest Kirsten Norfolk, said they had drunk a couple of bottles of wine with another friend over 90 minutes before going off to see the parade.
Ms Norfolk described the altercation with Ms Powell when the streets were ‘very busy and congested’.
She said a large number of people gathered and they had a buggy with them and there was an argument with Ms Powell over Ms Smallwood’s pram.
She said there was some ‘pushing and shoving’ and Ms Smallwood was struck in the face leaving a red mark and her sunglasses flew off.
But the situation quickly calmed and Ms Smallwood and her friends ‘laughed off what had happened’.
Later she was seen ‘crying on a bench after being hit by the Oss’ but was conscious as a first aid crew attended to her and an ambulance was called.
The festival is one of the biggest events in Padstow’s calendar as thousands flock to the small town in Cornwall
Ms Norfolk said she thought Ms Smallwood, who was holding the area by her mouth, would be okay because people were with her adding: ‘People get bumped all the time by the Oss.’
She then saw her being given CPR and ran back to her before she was taken away by medical staff.
But Ms Norfolk did not see the incidents when Ms Smallwood was struck in the face by Ms Powell or by the Oss.
Padstow lifeboat crewman Michael Dennick said a tall man grabbed Ms Smallwood by the ‘scruff of the head, each side of her clothes’ during the scuffle with Ms Powell.
He said: ‘The tall man was shaking her about, pushing her, pulling her back very aggressively’ and the man was telling Ms Smallwood: ‘Stop it, you are meant to be the mature one.’
Ms Powell told the inquest: ‘I pushed Laura’s face but it was not a slap or a punch. The streets were packed.’
The senior Cornwall coroner Andrew Cox apologised to the victim’s family for the delay in the inquest due to the pandemic.
The inquest is due to last three days.
The traditional event (pictured) features two hobby horses – Old Oss and Blue Ribbon Oss – that parade through the town