Sarah McClay's family still coming to terms with tragic death

THE mum of a zoo worker who died after she was pounced on by a tiger said her family still 'can't function' three years on.

Saturday, 11th June 2016, 11:13 am
Updated Monday, 13th June 2016, 12:38 pm
Zoo worker Sarah McClay. Picture: contributed

Sarah McClay, 24, died at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria, on May 24, 2013.

The zoo, founded by sole director David Gill, was yesterday fined £255,000 after admitting breaching health and safety laws on the day of the tragedy.

Outside court, Sarah’s mother, Fiona McClay, from Linlithgow, said the family did not want the zoo to close – but said it should not stay open if it could not prove itself safe.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

She said: “This [the sentencing] was about safety. This was about ensuring this isn’t going to happen again.

“This was about telling the public at large that an animal could have got out into the open space, that was the most important point of this.

“We can’t function yet with a member of our family missing. We have got to learn to do that and we haven’t got to that stage yet.

“The guilty plea was a step forward knowing that someone else was responsible.”

Miss McClay had worked full-time at the zoo, formerly known as South Lakes Wild Animal Park, since March 2011.

She initially looked after birds before she began to work with “Category One” animals such as the Sumatran tigers and jaguars that were kept in the tiger house designed by Mr Gill.

Systems were in place at the park to ensure that animals and keepers remained apart at all times through indoor and outdoor compartments connected by lockable self-closing doors.

The animal was supposed to never have access to the corridor – but the male tiger walked through the dark den door to where Miss McClay, from Barrow-in-Furness, was carrying out cleaning and feeding duties in the house.

Preston Crown Court heard that the zoo accepted that it had to failed to check that maintenance had been carried out on the “third line of defence” – the dark den steel door leading on to the keepers’ corridor.

The zoo also admitted it had failed to ensure members of the public were not exposed to risk of a big cat escaping from the tiger house, with limited views to identify a cat being in the corridor before seeking to gain entry.

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: “As a substantially contributory cause as a result of a door-closing mechanism failure, it did [happen]. The result was as tragic as it was foreseeable. The tiger attacked and Sarah was fatally injured.”

Fiona Hahlo, from the zoo’s lawyers Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said: “As has been said in court, Sarah was an enthusiastic, caring, ­dedicated and valued member of the zoo’s animal staff and she is greatly missed by all those who knew and worked with her.

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

Mr Gill made no comment as he left court.