Cumbria

Sarah McClay tiger mauling: Zoo admits breaches over death

Sarah McClay Image copyright Stephen McClay
Image caption An inquest into Sarah McClay's death recorded a narrative verdict

A zoo where a keeper was mauled to death by a tiger has admitted health and safety breaches.

Sarah McClay, 24, died at South Lakes Wild Animal Park - now known as South Lakes Safari Zoo - in Dalton-in-Furness, south Cumbria, in May 2013.

A Sumatran tiger, which got through an unlocked gate, left deep puncture wounds in her neck and body.

The zoo's owner, David Gill, 55, had faced individual charges on the same allegations but was formally acquitted.

The prosecution offered no evidence against him.

Image caption Individual charges against the zoo's sole director, David Gill, were dropped

Miss McClay, from Barrow-in-Furness, suffered "unsurvivable" multiple injuries in the attack and was airlifted to hospital where she was formally pronounced dead.

Her boyfriend, David Shaw, said it was a "shame it took this long to come to what was a fairly obvious conclusion".

In September 2014, an inquest jury in Kendal ruled, in a narrative verdict, the tiger got to Miss McClay by entering two open internal sliding gates within the tiger house and then an open door that led on to the corridor.

Systems were in place at the park to ensure animals and keepers remained apart at all times through indoor and outdoor compartments connected by lockable self-closing doors, it heard.

Image copyright Julie Cush
Image caption The inquest jury heard that lockable doors were in place to keep tigers and keepers apart

The zoo pleaded guilty to contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and failing to ensure people who were not staff were not exposed to risk on the day in question.

It accepted it had not sufficiently addressed risks arising from a defective bolt on the door that was open immediately before the attack.

The company said "a more proactive maintenance and inspection regime" should have been in place to ensure the door functioned efficiently and that its self-closing mechanism worked properly.

"The failure of the door to self-close was a more than trivial cause of harm," it said.

Sentencing will take place at Preston Crown Court on Friday when the company is expected to receive a financial penalty.

Image caption Sarah McClay had worked at the safari zoo for more than two years and was a "passionate conservationist"

Miss McClay, who was originally from Glasgow, had worked at the park for more than two years and was experienced with working with big cats, which she saw as a "privilege".

Her mother, Fiona McClay, from Linlithgow, West Lothian, said it was her daughter's "dream job" after she had visited the park as a child.

The family asked for Padang not to be put down at the time but he was put to sleep because of his age this year.

Image caption Padang is pictured here in the outer area of his pen before the attack took place

It can now be reported that the zoo pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two other contraventions of the Health and Safety at Work Act when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

The company admitted it failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees, including Yasmin Walker, and to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.

Barrow Borough Council, which oversees the zoo, is considering whether to renew the park's operating licence, which would have expired on Tuesday but has been extended until a council hearing on 5 July where Mr Gill must show a number of requirements have been met.

Inspectors previously demanded more than 30 improvements to the attraction, having found it had placed staff and the public in potential danger.

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