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Councillors grant licence to zoo where nearly 500 animals died

The committee granted the licence to CZCL – subject to David Gill either withdrawing his own licence appeal or surrendering his licence.

A Cumbrian zoo where almost 500 animals died within four years can stay open after councillors granted it a licence.

Two months ago a similar application from David Gill, the owner and founder of South Lakes Safari Zoo, was unanimously rejected after Government inspectors pointed out concerns over its management structure and veterinary care which it labelled “inadequate”.

But Tuesday’s application from Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (CZCL), which has operated the zoo since January, was approved after licensing committee members in Barrow-in-Furness were told the same inspection team was “highly encouraged” by improvements made under a new management team.

Councillors heard that Mr Gill had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo.

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But the inspectors had conceded there “might be some concern” that the present management team headed by chief executive Karen Brewer and senior staff were similar to the same team that worked under Mr Gill.

Ms Brewer told the hearing at Barrow Town Hall that it was “a new zoo” and it was the first time before the committee that she could “truly say these are my own thoughts rather than that of my previous employer”.

She said the independent inspection team had recognised “significant” improvements in animal welfare, husbandry and veterinary care”, and that the hard work of “dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate” staff members had paid off.

The committee granted the licence to CZCL – subject to Mr Gill either withdrawing his own licence appeal or surrendering his licence.

CZCL must also ensure an animal director or equivalent is appointed on a full-time basis and must have the ability to make decisions independent of the registered land owner.

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The zoo has remained open during the appeal process.

In June 2016, the zoo – opened in 1994 by Mr Gill – was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court after one of its employees, Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

It received an additional £42,500 fine after it 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.

Following the committee’s decision, Miss McClay’s mother, Fiona, from Linlithgow, said: “What we have heard in the chamber is that the council will keep a very close eye that Mr Gill has nothing to do with the running of the zoo.”

Miss McClay’s sister, Lucy, who also attended the hearing, said: “We maintain that we never wanted the zoo to close.

“We just wanted it to be safe for everyone who works there and everyone who visits, but it seems now that David Gill will not be involved. That’s hopefully a step in the right direction.”

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