Cumbria

Sarah McClay death: South Lakes Safari Zoo fined

Sarah McClay Image copyright Stephen McClay
Image caption Sarah McClay was pounced on in the keeper's corridor of the tiger house

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

Sarah McClay, 24, originally from Glasgow, died at South Lakes Wild Animal Park 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, now known as South Lakes Safari Zoo, was fined £297,500 at Preston Crown Court.

Some £42,500 of the fine was imposed for health and safety law breaches, which the company admitted, relating to when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

The zoo must also pay £150,000 prosecution costs over the next 10 years.

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

Image caption The prosecution offered no evidence against the zoo's owner David Gill

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

In September 2014, an inquest jury in Kendal ruled, in a narrative verdict, that 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.

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

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

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

Mr Justice Turner said "it should not have been possible" for the tiger to gain access to where Miss McClay was working.

He said: "But as a substantially contributory cause as a result of a door-closing mechanism failure, it did.

"The result was as tragic as it was foreseeable. The tiger attacked and Sarah was fatally injured."

After sentencing, Miss McClay's mother Fiona, said: "We can't function yet with a member of our family missing, we have got to learn how to do that and we haven't got to that stage yet.

"I feel like the zoo pleading guilty, that went a good way to that process... that was a step for us to move forward knowing that somebody else was responsible."

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Miss McClay's brother Stephen said the family felt "relieved" and "a little bit vindicated" by the outcome of the court case because some had tried to blame his sister for what happened.

"It definitely wasn't her fault, it was because the zoo was unsafe."

He said he felt glad the zoo had been punished for its safety lapses and it was "lucky more people didn't die".

The zoo, he said, now faced two choices: to make "serious improvements or close".

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

Zoo's chequered past

May 1997

A three-ton white rhino escapes from its enclosure and goes onto neighbouring land, where it had to be shot. David Gill later fined £10,000 for endangering the public and failing to have adequate barriers.

January 2002

Three giraffes that died between September 2000 and September 2001 suffered tetanus, heart failure and vitamin deficiencies. The park changes the food given to the animals.

August 2002

The park is rocked by the sudden deaths of two Sumatran tigers and a kangaroo. One tiger is later found to have had liver and kidney tumours.

August 2006

An escaped South American coati is captured using a tranquiliser dart after it wandered into a garden.

September 2006

A government inspector says escapes at the park are "a matter for concern" and recommends procedures to prevent animals using an overhead walkway as an escape route.

December 2008

A faulty electric heater is blamed for causing a fire at the zoo in which 30 lemurs died.

April 2010

A missing South American Capuchin monkey is recaptured in a church, five days after escaping from an enclosure at the park.

May 2013

Keeper Sarah McClay, 24, is mauled by a tiger at the park and later dies in hospital. A inquest jury found the tiger got through an open door to a corridor she was working in. A narrative verdict was recorded.

September 2013

Government inspectors express concern about vet cover, public access to parrot feeding stations and firearms training at the park.

July 2015

Mr Gill and the now-renamed South Lakes Safari Zoo are charged with health and safety breaches.

June 2016

The zoo admits health and safety breaches and is fined £297, 500. Mr Gill, 55, who faced individual charges on the same allegations, is formally acquitted.


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