Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

June 16, 2016

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Cumbrian zoo fined £255k over tiger mauling death

Courtesy of Stephen McClay

Courtesy of Stephen McClay

A zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, South Cumbria, where a Sumatran tiger got through an unlocked gate and killed an employee has been fined £255,000 after it earlier pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches.

The sentencing comes after Sarah McClay, 24, was pounced on in the keeper’s corridor of the tiger house at South Lakes Safari Zoo in May 2013. She suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead in hospital.

The court heard that systems were in place at the park to keep animals and keepers apart at all time through indoor and outdoor compartments connected by lockable self-closing doors.

On the day in question, two internal sliding gates were open which allowed the tiger, Padang, and his female companion, Alisha, to move in and out of a light den and a dark den to the outside enclosure. The inquest heard that a bolt on top of the door of the dark den was found to be defective.

An environmental health officer for the local authority told the inquest jury that the top spring-loaded bolt could not be held back and it would bang against the frame when it tried to close, leaving a gap of between 20mm and 25mm.

The jury found that one or more of the bolts on that door extended so as to prevent it from closing into the frame.

Guilty pleas

The company, whose sole director David Gill founded the zoo, entered guilty pleas at Preston Crown Court to contravening health and safety laws on the day of the tragedy.

South Lakes Safari Zoo Ltd 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 pleas came ahead of a scheduled trial, and the prosecution offered no evidence against 55-year-old Mr Gill – who had faced individual charges on the same allegations.

The company accepted that its risk assessment did not address sufficiently the risks arising from a failure to maintain the dark den door – labelled in court as “the last line of defence” for the animal keepers.

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


  • The company was fined £255,000 after entering guilty pleas to contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • The zoo was ordered to pay £150,000 in costs.
  • The company was fined an additional £42,500 after it had also pleaded guilty to other health and safety law breaches when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

On sentencing, 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.”

The judge said the incident the following year involving a ladder was “an accident waiting to happen”.


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Alan Kelso
Alan Kelso
7 years ago

In this case and the recent case of the gorilla in the US that was approaching and later holding a toddler who had fallen into his cage, an idea that came to mind is the use of CO2 fire-extinguishers to scare the animals away. They are extremely loud ( 125 dBA ) and would scare almost any animal. If the animal came closer or was already close enough to be in the gas stream, the gas is extremely cold ( -78.5 degrees C) , another non-lethal deterrent to approaching the user. Finally, if the animal approaches to where it is… Read more »