THE parents of a British soldier who was trampled to death by an elephant have said the army should “hang its head head in shame”.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 23, was killed by an elephant in Liwonde National Park in Malawi while on an anti-poaching mission on May 5 last year.
A Ministry of Defence (MOD) service inquiry, published today, highlighted short-comings in estimating how long it could take to get a casualty from a remote location to the nearest hospital.
In a statement released through lawyers Irwin Mitchell, the soldier’s parents Steven and Michelle Talbot said it had it had taken months “to get any of the answers” from the army.
They said: “When Matt passed away it was four hours and 17 minutes after the attack and it would have taken at least another three hours to get to the hospital in Blantyre.
“Those that are responsible for putting these risk assessments in place should hang their heads in shame if they think this is adequate for our brave serving soldiers who are prepared to put their lives on the line for Queen and country.
“This is not just about justice for Matt but also the lives of all the other brave soldiers, as we do not want other families to go through this.”
The Birmingham squaddie of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards was on his first operational tour when he suffered multiple serious injuries.
He was part of a five-man mixed Malawian and British patrol, deployed as part of an anti-poaching operation, when he was attacked.
A report found that although medics battled valiantly for more than four hours to save his life during the evacuation, he was still likely three hours from the nearest hospital.
Those that are responsible for putting these risk assessments in place should hang their heads in shame
Mathew Talbot’s parents Steven and Michelle
That was despite an Army risk assessment stating casualties should reach hospital within four hours of an incident, known as the “medical timeline”.
Because of the assumptions the timeline was achievable, the lack of any available medical helicopter was never considered an issue.
It found supplies of the three treating British Army medics were “just adequate”, but praised their actions as having given Mathew a fighting chance.
However, a key vital signs monitor failed to work correctly, there were a lack of blood products and confusion over when powerful pain medication could be used on patients with head injuries and breathing trouble.
As a result, the seriously injured soldier had no pain relief while he was being transported.
A post-mortem examination found the young soldier’s death was “not preventable” given the circumstances.
But the report also concluded Mathew would have had a 50 to 60 per cent chance of survival had he reached a hospital in Blantyre some 160km away.
“The underestimation of the medical timeline and the resources in place to assure it were inadequate,” the report concluded.
The injured soldier was also transported in the back of a Land Rover 130 which were “not designed to be ambulances”.
Just days after the incident, the pre-planned delivery of a Toyota ambulance arrived, the report noted.
Mathew, who joined the Army in 2013, was injured when an elephant, unseen, charged his patrol from the side.
The sergeant commanding the patrol managed to climb a tree.
But as Mathew tried to do the same “he was caught by the charging elephant, thrown in the air, then attacked whilst on the ground, sustaining significant injuries”.
The sergeant managed to scare off the attacking elephant with a fire cracker and give Mathew first aid.
At 10.20am, the patrol leader radioed an emergency medical call to the ranger camp more than 10km away.
But the four then had to stretcher Mathew to a rendezvous on foot, taking nearly an hour.
Medics were able to stabilise the young soldier but had to twice stop to carry out medical procedures, delaying the evacuation.
His condition worsened and at 1.20pm – three hours after the alarm was first raised – medics started CPR.
Despite trying for 57 minutes to resuscitate the soldier, they were unable to save Mathew.
Praising the patrol’s sergeant, the inquiry put the success of the stretcher team’s initial evacuation as “solely down to his experience, excellent leadership and personal strength”.
But the inquiry found British soldiers had been unable to aim a shot at the elephant “nor were warning shots permitted under UK rules of engagement”.
The Army’s use of force rules have since been changed, allowing warning shots on anti-poaching operations.
Along with 30 other recommendations, the report also called for immediate improvements to training.
An inquest into the soldier’s death will take place at Oxford Coroner’s Court.
In a statement released through the Ministry of Defence, Brigadier Ben Cattermole, Commander 11 Brigade, said the Army’s “thoughts and sympathies” were with the bereaved.
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He added: “The welfare of our personnel is of the utmost importance and the MOD has accepted all of the recommendations in this report, including robust training to better assess the risk of animal attack and fully rehearsing medical procedures before operations begin.
“We have already put in place plans to implement these recommendations and changes will be made as soon as possible.
“The MOD will review the coroner’s findings when available and address any additional recommendations.”