David Gill announces he will seek judicial review of zoo licence refusal
CONTROVERSIAL zoo founder David Gill intends to seek a judicial review over the way his zoo licence applications have been handled by Barrow council bosses and government zoo inspectors in a bid to clear his name.
Mr Gill claims he received unfair treatment at the hands of Barrow Borough Council and Defra appointed experts while he was still in charge of South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton.
The 55-year-old, who was described as 'not fit' to run a zoo by government inspectors in January, has now said he will lodge an application to overturn his licence refusal through the courts.
In a statement to the Evening Mail, Mr Gill suggested Barrow Borough Council - the body that decides whether to award a zoo licence - has 'wasted' £500,000 of funds 'on activities intended to damage the standing, image and financial viability of the Zoo and its employees'.
He also alleges the authority used 'party political' influence to damage his reputation and employment.
Later in a broadcast interview, Mr Gill added: "Every zoo has issues to rectify, that's just the nature of the beast.
"Normally what happens is that you work with the local authority if inspectors say something is happening and you go out and get it done."
But he went on: "It was a very difficult relationship with Barrow Borough Council.
"The difference was that we didn't get the working together that was needed so all these conditions ended up getting put on (the licence).
"No other authority in the country has done that."
Barrow Borough Council has not received any notification of a judicial review, its chief executive Phil Huck confirmed.
Mr Huck said: "We await notification.
"We believe we have acted reasonably, patiently and lawfully in all of our dealings with the zoo.
"We have also done this in an open and fully transparent way."
South Lakes Safari Zoo has been mired in tragedy and controversy in recent years following the death of tiger keeper Sarah McClay in 2013 and a series of animal escapes and public safety fears.
An autopsy audit revealed nearly 500 animals had died on site in less than four years from causes including emaciation and overcrowding.
In January, David Gill handed over the reins of South Lakes Safari Zoo to the newly formed Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd following a visit by government appointed zoo inspectors.
His application for a renewal of his licence to run the site was subsequently refused by Barrow Borough Council when members of the authority's licencing regulatory committee also issued a closure notice in March.
Mr Gill lodged an appeal against the decision. While this was pending, Cumbria Zoo Company was awarded its own licence to run Dalton zoo.
Mr Gill, who now hopes to focus on wildlife conservation work, remains the landlord of the zoo, though he is not part of its operating company.
No-one from Barrow Borough Council was available for comment on the matter this morning.
READ MORE: Zoo issued with formal closure notice