Zoo admits health and safety failings after keeper mauled by death by tiger

South Lakes Wild Animal Park owner and founder David Gill,
South Lakes Wild Animal Park owner and founder David Gill,
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A zoo has admitted health and safety breaches over the death of one of its keepers who was mauled by a Sumatran tiger.

Sarah McClay, 24, was pounced on in the keeper’s corridor of the tiger house at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, on May 24 2013.

The company, now known as South Lakes Safari Zoo, entered guilty pleas at Preston Crown Court to contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in relation to the day of the tragedy.

The company admitted that on or before May 24 2013 it failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees, including Miss McClay, arising out of and/or in connection with the keeping of big cats.

It also pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that persons not in its employment on the above date were not exposed to risk to their health and safety.

The prosecution offered no evidence against the firm’s sole director, David Gill, 55, who faced individual charges on the same allegations and formal not guilty verdicts were recorded against him.

Sentencing will take place at Preston Crown Court on Friday.

The pleas were entered this morning ahead of a scheduled trial.

Following the hearing, Miss McClay’s boyfriend, David Shaw, said: “It’s a shame it took this long to come to what was a fairly obvious conclusion but I am pleased we do not have to go through a trial.”

Miss McClay suffered “unsurvivable” multiple injuries and was airlifted from the scene to hospital where she was formally pronounced dead.

In September 2014, an inquest jury in Kendal ruled in a narrative verdict that Padang the Sumatran 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 that animals and keepers remained apart at all times through indoor and outdoor compartments connected by lockable self-closing doors, the inquest heard.

Miss McClay had worked at the park for more than two years and was well 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. She is expected to attend sentencing.