SOUTH Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton has been order to pay almost £450,000 after admitting safety failings over a tiger mauling that killed keeper Sarah McClay.

The company admitted two health and safety breaches earlier this week in relation to the death of the 24-year-old who was killed by a Sumatran tiger in 2013.

Individual charges against 55-year-old David Gill, the zoo's director and founder, were dropped.

Sarah McClay Miss McClay died at the Dalton zoo in May 2013. Padang, a Sumatran tiger, got through an unlocked gate and attacked her, leaving deep puncture wounds in her neck and body. She suffered multiple injuries in the attack and was airlifted to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Miss McClay, who lived in Barrow but was originally from Glasgow, had worked at the park for more than two years and was experienced in working with big cats.

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.


The sentencing took place today at Preston Crown Court. Mr Gill, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a patterned tie, has arrived in the courtroom.

The court heard that Miss McClay's mother's impact statement is to be read by the prosecution barrister, Mr Nigel Lawrence, who is acting on behalf of Barrow Borough Council.

Mr Lawrence told the court that "the animals in (the) enclose were dangerous... Big cats are natural born killers". He also said that the doors "were the last line of defence between the animals and the keepers".

The court was told the tigers were on a 'starve day', where they are effectively not given any food to replicate natural conditions in the wild.

Mr Lawrence described how another keeper walking back heard a scream. Visitor Gareth Bell saw Padang walking into the light den and looking through window. He then saw the tiger come into the doorway behind Miss McClay.

Mr Bell saw her turn around and start to scream. He screamed for help, looked back and saw the tiger had Miss McClay by the neck. She was no longer screaming, the court has heard.

At this point, Mr Lawrence is telling the courtroom, another tiger had entered and was attacking Miss McClay's legs. She was then dragged outside.

In relation to a later incident, Preston Crown Court was told that just two months after Miss McClay's tragic death, zoo employee Yasmin Walker fractured her collar bone after falling from a ladder on the pole where meat was placed for the tigers.

During the sentencing hearing Mr Gill remained expressionless, looking at the bench in front of him.

Mr Lawrence told the court that risk assessments carried out for the tiger enclosure were not suitable and the door didn't close as it should have done.

The zoo's defence barrister, Mr Ben Crompton, said the company accepts a more proactive maintenance system should have been in place.

The court heard that the zoo accepts that employees should have been protected from risk and contact with wild animals. The zoo accepts there was an accident and that Miss McClay died as a result of this.

Preston Crown Court also heard that there was also a risk to public as the tiger was just behind the door leading to the public. The tiger could have got out and into the wider, public area of the zoo.

The zoo, as employer, has accepted that its employees were at risk because of unsafe practices.

The prosecution submitted a request for £150,000 in legal costs to be paid by the zoo.


The court next heard a victim statement from Miss McClay's mother Fiona McClay, who attended the hearing.

Fiona McClay Mrs McClay said her "life ended" when her daughter died. In her victim statement, she has said she is unable to connect with her other two children emotionally because she is scared something will happen to them.

Mrs McClay said she becomes upset when she holds her grandchild because it reminds her that Sarah will never be a wife and mother like she wanted.

The court also heard of the impact on Miss McClay's partner, David Shaw, who was also at the hearing.

He says he was severely depressed after her death and couldn't go back to work for some time. The court has heard that without Sarah, Mr Shaw has "no structure" in his life and can't bring himself to sleep in their bed.

Mr Shaw told the court Sarah was the "soul" of their house. Throughout the reading of the victim impact statements, zoo founder and owner David Gill has remained expressionless.

A victim statement from Miss McClay's brother, Stephen McClay, was then read to court. In his statement, Mr McClay criticised the national media for their coverage of his sister's death, and has been particularly critical about The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Mirror.


The judge, Mr Justice Turner, told Miss McClay's family that they have his "deepest sympathies". He added that "if this provides nothing else for the family I hope it gives closure".

In mitigation, defence barrister Mr Ben Crompton said the zoo apologises for opening to the public the day after Miss McClay's death.

Mr Crompton said Mr Gill described Sarah as popular, bubbly and smiley and said she had a "great future" ahead of her.

Background about the zoo was then given to the court. Mr Crompton said that when it opened in 1994, the zoo attracted 55,000 visitors a year, a figure which now stands at a quarter of a million. The attraction generates £3m a year.

Mr Crompton also described Mr Gill's actions following the attack.

After hearing the alarm, he said Mr Gill checked where the tigers were and then entered the enclosure with his shotgun. As the events were recalled to the court, Mr Gill appeared red-faced.

Mr Crompton said the zoo accepts that maintenance on the door which the tigers used to get to Miss McClay "had not been carried out".


In passing sentence, Mr Justice Turner said: "First I want to say that any sentence passed does not put any value on Sarah's life.

"It's clear she was dearly loved and her death had been hard hitting."
The judge, who described the incident leading to Miss McClay's death as " particularly shocking", reminded the court that he cannot send a company to prison or hand down any form of community service.

Mr Justice Turner said Miss McClay's death had been "foreseeable".

He fined South Lakes Safari Zoo £297,500 in total for the health and safety offences and ordered the zoo to pay £100,000 in court costs. The fine must be paid within 10 years with the first payment of £30,000 due by the end of July and the costs, which will be covered by the zoo's insurance policy, must be paid within six weeks.


After the sentencing, Miss McClay's family told the Evening Mail they were satisfied with the outcome.

A spokesperson for Barrow Borough Council, which investigated the incidents, said: “The zoo failed to comply with expected standards in relation to risk assessing and proactively maintaining the door (specifically the self closing mechanism) which was the final line of defence between a keeper and a tiger.

"These failings were a significant cause of the death of Sarah McClay. The zoo also did not sufficiently address the risks arising from the escape of a big cat from the keeper’s area into the public area.

"In relation to the second incident, the zoo failed to ensure the safety of its employees by not undertaking a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in relation to working at height which involved the placing of meat at height on a pole 5 metres above the ground whilst using ladders for the lion feeding. This led to a keeper being injured as a result of a fall from height.

This conviction is a warning to companies that they must adequately assess the risks of all their activities and put in place a proactive maintenance and inspection regime for all pieces of work equipment to ensure they work correctly.

"This conviction also serves as a warning to companies whose employees work at height, in that all such work should be adequately risk assessed to ensure that it can be undertaken safely or the risk of working at height can be removed entirely.

"This conviction is the culmination of a long investigation by Barrow Borough Council and the Council we wish to once again offer our condolences to Sarah McClay’s family on what will be a very difficult day for them.”