Belfast Telegraph

Heartbreaking last moments of young showjumper's life recalled at inquest into equestrian event tragedy

By Donna Deeney

The broken-hearted father of a teenage showjumper has told an inquest how he watched helplessly as his daughter's life ebbed away after she fell off her pony which then crushed her.

Edmund Wiley recalled how he had travelled to the Eglinton Equestrian Centre on August 17, 2012 with 13-year-old Hannah and her two ponies, Jobber and Blue.

He talked about how much they had been looking forward to Hannah participating in two of the events.

But as Hannah approached the fourth 80cm high jump on the second event, tragedy struck and Hannah came off Jobber.

The horse somersaulted and landed on her chest causing fatal injuries to her liver, renal glands and lungs.

Mr Wiley listened intently as his statement was read out and described how he saw Hannah begin to take the jump and her pony's leg catch in the fence.

"As soon as I saw Hannah fall I ran towards her and as I approached I could see she was under the horse and the pole of the fence was lodged between the pony's legs," he said.

"Hannah said 'my stomach is sore and I can't breath'."

Mr Wiley looked on unable to help his daughter but he rang his wife Ethna, a nurse who was at their home in Artigarvan in Co Tyrone. Mr Wiley said he described Hannah's condition to his wife who immediately travelled to the centre and watched as ambulance paramedics fought to get Hannah's heart beating and pulse going.

As the child was put into the ambulance to go to Altnagelvin Hospital, Mr Wiley said his wife told him: "We have lost her."

Staff at the accident and emergency department attempted to resuscitate Hannah for over an hour, but she was declared dead and Mr and Mrs Wiley stayed with her "until she went cold".

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Alister Bentley, who carried out the post-mortem examination on Hannah, said her injuries were so severe there was no way for her to survive them, and the deep cuts to her liver alone were fatal.

A number of other witnesses also gave evidence supporting Mr Wiley's view of what had happened in the moments before Hannah's pony missed the jump, including a nurse, Isobel Bell, who ran to her assistance.

Mrs Wiley, with the permission of Coroner Jim Kitson, read out a prepared statement in the Londonderry court where she voiced concerns at the apparent lack of investigation into her daughter's death by the police.

She said that she only found out there would be an investigation by the environmental services department of Derry City Council through the media, but that it "never happened".

She also said that it was in December 2012 that they found out "an unpaid employee" of the centre had dismantled the jumps at the arena and then assembled them again before police or the council had examined them. Mrs Wiley recalled her daughter as an "intelligent girl, much loved and sport mad". "She had her whole life in front of her, she was just a child, but she was our child," she said. "We don't want any other family to suffer our loss."

One of the committee members of the Equestrian Club, Leslie McFaul, told the court that on the day following Hannah's accident he had begun to dismantle the jumps. at the centre

While it was normal procedure, on reflection he realised that it would have been better to leave the scene as it was.

He said he had done this because he was not thinking straight given the tragedy that had taken place the night before. The family had queried if the reason for his actions was because the equipment used would have contributed to Hannah's death.

However, the coroner accepted the reasons for dismantling the equipment were entirely innocent. A police officer said there had been no guarantee of an investigation, and that preservation of the scene had not been deemed necessary.

The inquest had been adjourned from July 2013 to allow an expert accident investigator to examine the circumstances surrounding Hannah's death.

Michael McLaughlin said he examined the equipment and that it was well within the safety recommendations suggested by a number of equestrian authorities in Britain and Ireland.

But, he added, he was nonetheless almost certain that the equipment did not contribute to Hannah's death.

Coroner Jim Kitson said this was one of the most distressing inquests he had had to preside over. He said Hannah had died from the devastating injuries she suffered when her pony fell on her. But he added that "we will never know exactly what happened on that dreadful night".

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