A WOMAN initially believed to have been trampled to death by cattle in fact died from suffocation, an inquest heard yesterday.

Animal-loving vet Frances Elizabeth Crowsley encountered the herd on June 21, when she was out walking her two dogs along the Pennine Way in the North Yorkshire Dales.

Miss Crowsley, 49, was seen by holidaymakers trying to fend off the animals with a stick, in a field at Gaudy House Farm, near Gayle.

Her body was later discovered against a dry-stone wall – her chin was forced down onto her chest and she was surrounded by cows. In one of her hands was a broken walking pole and two dog leads.

At the time it was believed she had been trampled to death by the cows, which were protecting their calves.

But yesterday Coroner Geoff Fell said there was no evidence to suggest she had been crushed “in the conventional sense”.

He said it was possible she had stumbled against the wall in her efforts to escape and knocked herself unconscious, causing her head to fall forward and crush her windpipe.

He said: “The post-mortem examination shows that Miss Crowsley had no broken bones. She had three deep cuts and bruises to her scalp, and bruises to her extremities and torso.

“But the actual cause of death was postural asphyxiation, which could have been caused when she fell against the wall.”

Holidaymakers Wendy and Stephen Johnson were alerted to Miss Crowsley’s plight when they heard the cows making “an unusual bellowing sound”.

“I looked out of the window of our holiday cottage and saw a woman with her back against a wall, surrounded by a semi-circle of stomping cows, shaking a stick at them,” said Mrs Johnson.

Mr Johnson was on the scene minutes later, but was too late. He stayed with Miss Crowsley’s body until paramedics arrived.

The cows belonged to farmer Thomas Iveson, who said: “What might have happened is that the cows have gone after the dogs, and then the dogs have gone back to the lady and not left her side.”

Miss Crowsley’s brother, Stephen, 53, described his sister as “active, independent and devoted to animals”.

He said: “She was an experienced vet and walker, and would have been very comfortable around cattle.

“She was very cautious by nature and would never do anything rash.

“The word tragedy is bandied about a lot these days, but this really was the most horrible, ironic death one could possibly imagine.”

He said Miss Crowsley’s dogs, Wilf and Megan, which were “devoted” to their owner, had since been found new homes.

Miss Crowsley was a vet and partner at The Willows Veterinary Group, in Hartford, Cheshire.

Mr Fell added: “We don’t know exactly the circumstances leading to Miss Crowsley’s death, it’s clear there were a number of factors.

“Though the cows did not trample her, they contributed to her death, which was ultimately caused by asphyxiation.

“This was a very rare, very unfortunate incident.”

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.