National Trust criticised after Exmoor gorge death

The National Trust has been criticised by the family of a woman, 82, who fell to her death in a gorge in Devon.

Sigrid Smith of Norfolk, fell from a woodland footpath at Watersmeet, Exmoor. Her death was recorded as accidental.

The inquest in Exeter heard she tripped over a stone and a tree stump before falling over a cliff into the river.

The National Trust said no warning signs were in the area because it was not deemed a dangerous site.

'Fly like an eagle'

Mrs Smith, of Sheringham, had been visiting her son, Tim, and his wife Susan on 23 June 2010 when the accident happened.

Susan Smith told the inquest her mother-in-law seemed to "fly like an eagle" as she fell and had said "Oh, I'm going" before falling.

Mrs Smith was airlifted to North Devon District Hospital but was pronounced dead after suffering massive head and spinal injuries.

National Trust workers told the inquest the path was "typical of the property" and it was thought a steep slope before the edge of the gorge would prevent anyone falling.

Head ranger, Julian Gurney said: "At this location I had not given any consideration to anyone falling from the slope.

"The chances are that you could hit a tree. There are also quite a few saplings you could grab on to to arrest your fall.

"However, if you were unlucky enough to fall in the wrong place you could fall all the way down."

'Age of paranoia'

He said he still felt warning signs were unnecessary and "too many signs spoil the countryside".

Mrs Smith's family said while they accepted the verdict they had had to put pressure on the National Trust to start looking at any possible changes, including removing the stump that she tripped over.

Tim Smith said after the inquest: "As a family we have severe reservations about the way the National Trust handled the situation after the event, knowing what our concerns were."

His brother Bernard said: "We hope that the legacy she leaves behind is to tighten up certain health and safety that need to be addressed in the light of our experiences since.

"That is the one thing we find very strange in this age of paranoia in terms of health and safety."

The National Trust said it was reviewing its practices on the site.

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