THE owner of a zoo where a Scot was mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger three years ago stands accused of putting more lives at risk in spite of the tragedy.

David Gill - who walked free from court over the 24-year-old's death last week - also faces claims over fears about animal welfare, interfering in management decisions and going back on a pledge to hand over its running.

He vowed to council bosses changes would be made after Sarah McClay, originally from Glasgow, was savaged to death in the keeper's corridor of the tiger house on May 24, 2013.

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Gill's South Lakes Safari Zoo Limited, entered guilty pleas at Preston Crown Court to contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £297,500 and ordered to pay £150,000 legal costs.

The zoo's licence - on which around 100 jobs rely - expired on Monday but has been continued until a meeting on July 5 and 6 when its final fate of the site in Dalton-in-Furness in Cumbria could be decided.

It can be now revealed the zoo had 39 conditions imposed in its licence earlier this year including issues over animal welfare.

HeraldScotland: Acquitted: South Lakes Wild Animal Park owner and founder David Gill

Unless Gill and his team can prove improvements and a proper management plan have been put in place to address them then its licence could be revoked.

The Sunday Herald has learned council inspectors first recommended refusing the zoo's licence in January unless there was a shake-up of the management.

They catalogued a series of welfare and safety concerns.

But it was decided to grant an extension until next month to allow the operators to meet demands of the Barrow council.


Official documents from February show Gill, the founder, owner, and licence-holder, said the zoo would be gifted to the Safari Zoo Nature Foundation charity.

He confirmed he would have nothing to do with the charity and would not be employed by the zoo which would have a board with a minimum of ten trustees overseeing operations.

But the documents said it had "become apparent" that Gill was "overriding decisions" made the management team adding "it is of deep concern should the licence be renewed in his name.

According to Companies House, Gill left the zoo company board on October 23 last year but was reappointed on December 2 and is the sole controlling shareholder.


The same month the zoo was cited for safety issues at the zoo which could put lives at risk.

It was given 28 days by the council to prove its aerial walkways were safe. It responded saying it would close temporarily accusing the council of harassment, although there was no definite date of re-opening.

That decision was later reversed and the council issued a Direction Order requiring that all walkways and viewing platforms be closed to the public. It remains in place.

Direction orders which insist on compliance are imposed should licence conditions fail to be met.

The council's environmental health officer report that it was "fundamental to public safety" for them to be correct as a failure "would cause members of the public to fall from height and may place them in close proximity to dangerous animals that may then hamper rescue operations".

Concerns had been previously raised in 2009, 2013 and 2014.


The council as part of a list of conditions stated that a new "robust management and staffing structure must be in place".

A report of licensing regulatory committee discussions on February 23 and 24 said: "This new structure must include a competent, suitably qualified and experienced full-time director (or senior manager) with day to day responsibility for the running of the Zoo, the ability and authority to make decisions independent of the owner, and must be fully responsible to the licensing authority for the conduct of the Zoo, all its on-site activities.

The report added: “The decision by the inspection team to recommend that a new licence for South Lakes Safari Zoo should not be granted at its due date, unless a condition regarding the management structure has been complied with."

The inspectors had commended Gill for his initial decision to step back from the running of the zoo.


"This is no longer a small zoo and it now houses a large and diverse number of species. Suitable management processes must be in place before a new licence is issued to enable the Zoo to meet all its legal obligations... ," said the papers.

An inspection of November 2015 highlighted 33 conditions covering safety and welfare that the inspectors believed must be applied to the licence, "a considerable number of conditions for a zoo of this size and many of these result from the repeated failure to implement fully previous conditions, thus aggravating the situation and determining the Inspectors’ position", the document says.

"Of particular concern to the inspectors is the fact that as this zoo grows, it relies heavily on the owner’s experience implementing out of date practices and refusing to implement modern zoo methods.

In the inspectors’ opinion this has resulted in animal welfare issues, a higher than expected mortality rate amongst the animals, higher than expected incidents, such as injuries to the public from animals, and places both staff and the public potentially in danger.”


According to inspectors out of 165 UK zoo licences reviewed, only 5% of zoos reviewed had over 20 conditions.

By February there were a total of 39 conditions on the zoo's licence, including issues relating to animal bites, rodent infestation, and level of veterinary care

Karen Brewer, a newly appointed director, who says she has been appointed as chief executive officer, responded to the issues with a statement prepared after Friday's sentencing saying: "All at the South Lakes Safari Zoo offer their deepest and most heartfelt sympathies again to Sarah McClay's family and loved ones in respect of her tragic death.

"As has been said in court, Sarah was an enthusiastic, caring, dedicated and valued member of the zoo's animal staff, and she is missed greatly by all those who knew and worked with her.


"The judge recognised that to a very considerable extent safety was a priority at the zoo. It remains a priority. The judge noted the positive remarks by those inspecting the zoo and the commitment and enthusiasm of the zoo's management.

"He recognised that the zoo provides a substantial amenity in the Barrow area which gives much needed opportunity to local educational establishments.

"He recognised the zoo's work with schools, its free access programme for children and its international conservational efforts.

"Lessons have been learned and the zoo continues to prioritise safety for staff and visitors."


Gill had previously been fined £6000 by authorities over escaped animals at his Mareeba Wild Animal Park in Australia before leaving the country as his business failed with debts of £2 million.

He was charged, convicted and fined for three breaches of the Land Protection Act in his absence, two of those involving the escape of a lemur and cheetah and the unreported death of a lemur in October, 2004.