Army rules meant British soldier killed by elephant was not allowed to fire warning shot

·2 min read
A photo of Mathew Talbot in his military fatigues - Ministry of Defence/PA Wire
A photo of Mathew Talbot in his military fatigues - Ministry of Defence/PA Wire

A British soldier killed by a charging elephant during an anti-poaching operation in Malawi was unable to protect himself following a ban on the use of warning shots, a coroner has found.

Coldstream Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 22, died from his injuries after being “knocked” into the air by an elephant that caught a five-man patrol of Malawian and British soldiers off guard in the Liwonde National Park in 2019.

A week-long inquest at Oxford Coroner’s Court found that warning shots against dangerous game were banned by the Army’s rules of engagement but the prohibition has since been reversed. Darren Salter, the senior coroner, said the reasons for the restriction were “still not entirely clear”.

“The result of that is Matthew and his fellow soldiers were deprived of one of the main protective measures,” he said.

Gdsm Talbot’s parents, Steve and Michelle, blamed the Army for their son’s death, saying that he may have survived “had the right things been put in place”.

The patrol, navigating six-and-a-half-foot-high grass, spotted three elephants 100 feet in the distance when they were charged from the side by another elephant and forced to scatter in different directions.

Gdsm Talbot had attempted to climb a tree when he was attacked. Despite “highly commendable” initial treatment, he suffered a cardiac arrest more than four hours into a six-hour 4x4 journey to the nearest hospital, the inquest heard.

The senior coroner found several additional failings with the operation. Naming two more “contributory causes” of death, Mr Salter said previous patrols had shown that high “elephant grass” should be avoided.

He added that climbing a tree was “the wrong immediate action for an elephant attack”. The presence of a medical helicopter and someone medically qualified to insert a chest drain into the wounded soldier may have also “led to Mathew’s survival".

Mr Salter said that an “overly optimistic assessment” of a Land Rover went against Army guidelines which recommend that casualties should be able to reach medical facilities within four hours.

The Ministry of Defence published a service inquiry in October last year which made 30 recommendations after finding that several errors had occurred.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting