AN animal-loving vet died after a herd of cows became spooked in a field in which she was walking her dogs, a Yorkshire inquest heard today.
Liz Crowsley, 49, from Warrington, Cheshire, was on a weekend break in the Yorkshire Dales in June when the accident happened as she walked her two pets on a popular walking route of the Pennine Way, outside the hamlet of Gayle, near Hawes.
But coroner Geoff Fell said that after investigations he was still not sure exactly how Ms Crowsley met her death, which he recorded as accidental.
The coroner told the hearing at Richmond Town Hall, North Yorkshire, that the cows, some of which had calves, may have been spooked by Ms Crowsley's dogs and advanced towards her and knocked her over, or one of her dogs may have got under her feet, or she may simply have stumbled.
Wendy and Stephen Johnson, who were on holiday in the area, saw what happened.
They told the hearing that around lunchtime on the day of Ms Crowsley's death they were alerted by a strange noise that forced them to look out of the window.
"We heard an unusual bellow," Mrs Johnson said. "Not a sound I've heard before.
"I looked out of the window and saw the lady in question stood up against the wall, she had a stick and was shaking it, trying to get the cows away.
"I shouted to my husband: 'It looks like there's a lady being attacked."'
Mr and Mrs Johnson ran down to the field and Mrs Johnson said she could see the cows "all stood, huddled together in an arch".
Mr Johnson also told the hearing he did not see Ms Crowsley's body when he first entered the field as the cows were in the way, but her dogs, a spaniel and a larger collie-type dog, were moving closer and then pulling back from the cows.
He said: "I got the impression that all the dogs wanted was to be near Liz."
Ms Crowsley was found dead leaning against a dry stone wall with her chin propped on her chest and a semi-circle of cows close by.
One arm was behind her back in which she was holding a broken walking stick and two dog leads.
It appeared she had released her dogs at some point, perhaps to scare the cattle that may have come towards her.
The cows belonged to farmer Thomas Iveson, who told the hearing he had never before had any problems with the herd and that Ms Crowsley was correct in trying to wave them away with her arms.
He said: "I think what's happened is that Ms Crowsley had the dogs and the cattle came to the dogs, and then the dogs came back to Liz."
A post-mortem examination revealed she had three deep cuts and bruises to her scalp, bruises to her extremities and torso, and fractures through the facet joints of her spine.
But the actual cause of death was postural asphyxiation, which the coroner said could have been caused as a result of Ms Crowsley's fall against the wall.
Mr Fell said: "It seems that Liz could have fallen against the wall and her chin came down, as a result of that she could not breathe.
"With postural asphyxiation you have to be unconscious, you can't do it yourself, so Liz must have been unconscious and couldn't correct her breathing difficulties."
Ms Crowsley was a veterinary surgeon at The Willows Veterinary Group, in Hartford, Cheshire.
She qualified as a vet at the University of Liverpool in 1984 and became a partner of The Willows practice in 1991.
Simon Jones, also a partner at the practice and a specialist in cattle, told the hearing Ms Crowsley knew her way around animals and would have known if the cows had become edgy.
He added: "I've racked my brains many times as to how this incident could have come about and I imagine that the dogs were probably the catalyst."
After hearing evidence Mr Fell said he could only record a verdict of accidental death as there was no evidence to suggest Ms Crowsley was trampled by the cows, even though he was satisfied there was a direct causal link between the two.
He added: "The cows, I don't doubt, were the catalyst that led to the circumstances of Liz's death.
"There is no evidence to suggest she was trampled, nor was she crushed.
"The cows contributed to the death but didn't actually cause it.
"This is a very unfortunate and extremely rare incident."
Ms Crowsley is survived by her mother and one brother, Stephen, who was present at the inquest.
He told the hearing: "Liz was not a rash person, she was cautious by nature.
"She loved animals and dedicated her life to them.
"It's the most ironic death one can possibly imagine."