How would a coroner rule this? Death by misadventure?
A snake owner was killed by an 8ft (2.4m) pet python he called his “baby”, an inquest has heard.
Daniel Brandon, 31, died from asphyxiation at his home near Basingstoke, Hampshire, on 25 August.
One of the pets – a female African rock python named Tiny – was found near his body, out of its pen.
Coroner Andrew Bradley said there was no doubt Mr Brandon died “as a result of contact with Tiny” and he recorded a verdict of misadventure.
Mr Brandon had kept snakes for 16 years and Tiny was one of 10 snakes and 12 tarantulas he kept in his room at the family home, North Hampshire Coroner’s Court heard.
His mother Barbara Brandon said her son had owned Tiny since it was small enough to fit in his hand.
She told the court on the night of her son’s death she heard a bang coming from his room, but had assumed it was a dumbbell falling or that he knocked something over.
She later discovered Mr Brandon unconscious in his bedroom and later found the snake coiled under a cabinet.
I once spoke with a chap who knew a bit about pythons, shortly after a pet killed a toddler in Florida in 2011. He said they are more than capable of killing a human being, but they rarely try because there is easier prey around. The key, the chap told me, is to ensure they’re fed; if they get hungry, they’ll start eating things they’re not supposed to.
He never felt threatened by Tiny and was aware of how strong it was, she said, but there were occasions when it would “strike out” if she entered the room.
This doesn’t sound good. Pythons can give you a nasty bite similar to that of a dog. Would you keep a dog in the house that tried to bite people?
Mr Bradley said: “The most likely scenario is that Tiny was engaged with Dan – I have no doubt about that.
“She was coiling around him, at which point I have no idea. There was a point at which either she takes hold of him unexpectedly or trips him up or some other mechanism.”
When playing with dogs you need to make sure you don’t do something which triggers them into reacting aggressively, and dogs are generally amiable creatures which can be trained. What bond a human can have with a snake I don’t know, but I can’t imagine the relationship is ever that secure.
However, reptile expert Prof John Cooper, who examined Tiny at the Brandons’ home in November, told the court Mr Brandon “would have known how to unwrap a python”.
Is that always possible? Presumably it is if a reptile expert is saying so, but I always imagined any unwrapping I’ve seen on TV was done with the consent of the python.
Prof Cooper also inspected the skin that Tiny shed later that month and said if the snake had coiled around Mr Brandon, there would have been scratches visible on the snake’s skin caused by him trying to get the reptile off – but there were none.
Oh! Perhaps Tiny has been framed, then? Either way, it’s pretty sad for his family:
“I cry every day and night and relive that evening all the time,” she said. “All the family wanted was answers to our questions, and I have no idea yet whether we have that or will.”
I am confident my demise will not occur in similar fashion to that of Mr Brandon. I quite like seeing big snakes, provided they are behind an inch of glass and I am in a zoo. Otherwise I’ll keep well clear; they terrify me.