THE mother of a Scots zookeeper mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger has said the wildlife park should be closed while concerns continue over the safety of the public three years after the tragedy.

Fiona McClay, whose daughter Sarah, 24, was killed at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria three years ago, said the zoo should not have its licence renewed as David Gill – who walked free from court last week over the 24-year-old’s death – faces new claims over fears about animal welfare and interfering in management decisions.

Last week Mr Gill, the 55-year-old founder of the zoo which admitted health and safety breaches was acquitted of charges.

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Read more: Zoo fined £255,000 over tiger mauling death of Scots keeper Sarah McClay

The wildlife park company, known as South Lakes Safari Zoo Limited, 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. It was fined £297,500 and must also pay £150,000 prosecution costs over the next 10 years.

Sarah McClay, 24, originally from Glasgow died after she 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.

It has emerged Barrow council inspectors had recommended to the council in January that a renewal of the zoo licence should be refused unless there was a shake-up of the management while revealing a catalogue of animal welfare and safety concerns during inspections.


It was decided that while the licence expired on Monday (June 6) , it would be extended to July 5 and 6 when the zoo licence renewal would be re-considered leaving more time to allow the zoo operators to meet the demands of the council over its safety and management.

And Mrs McClay from Linlithgow, West Lothian, who rushed from her home in Linlithgow, West Lothian, to Lancashire, where doctors had tried in vain to save her daughter, said the zoo's licence should not be renewed.

"If he is going to have anything to do with it, it shouldn't have its licence renewed, because I don't believe he will bring it up to standard," she said.

Read more: Catalogue of concerns at zoo where tiger killed Scots keeper

"If it is not safe for the employees and staff then it should close. If it can't be made safe, and keep to health and safety regulations then it has to close.

"Nobody wants people to lose their jobs, but if it is not a safe environment they are working in, they are better to lose their jobs and perhaps not find another one than to lose their life."

Council documents from February state that Mr Gill, the founder, owner, and licence-holder had suggested the zoo would be gifted to the Safari Zoo Nature Foundation charity, 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 the zoo operation.

But February papers also reveal concern it had "become apparent" that Mr Gill was "overriding decisions made the management team adding that "it is of deep concern should the licence be renewed in Mr Gill's name.


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

In December, the zoo was given 28 days by the council to prove its ariel walkways were safe, and the zoo responded saying it would close temporarily accusing the council of harassment, although there was no definite date of re-opening. The decision was later reversed.

The council then issued a Direction Order requiring that all walkways and viewing platforms be closed to the public. It remains in place.

Read more: £250k fine "fair" says mum of Scots zookeeper mauled to death by tiger

The council's environmental health officer report that it was "fundamental to public safety that the elevated walkways, viewing platforms, and other similar structures had been designed to the correct standard, saying 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 about the walkways had been previously raised with the zoo in 2009, 2013 and 2014.

Mrs McClay said she did not mind that Mr Gill had not been found personally guilty of any criminal charges.

She said: " He is the zoo, he is the owner and it doesn't matter to me which one of them [pled guilty].

"Even if he had a custodial sentence, I don't believe that that necessarily would have meant he didn't have a hand in the zoo and I don't think it would necessarily have made him into a different person."

The council as part of a list of conditions stated that a "robust management and staffing structure must be in place to the satisfaction of the licensing authority, and in order to allow a new licence to be issued".

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 wwner’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.”

Mr Gill had previously amassed fines totalling almost £20,000 in a series of issues in Australia relating to escaping animals before Ms McClay's death.

He was 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.

His park in Cairns in Queensland was accused of breaching permit conditions. He said at the time that he left quickly "under deep fear for both my family and my safety and freedom".

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.

After being fined he said: "It was pure ignorance of the letter of the law that led to these breaches, it was not malicious intent."

In 2004, the Australasian Zoo and Aquarium Association executive officer Jonathan Wilcken confirmed Mr Gill's application for full membership had been rejected after an investigation.

Karen Brewer, a newly appointed director, who says she has been appointed as chief executive officer, responded to the continuing issues that have emerged 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."