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Inquest hears how tiger 'tore through enclosure door'

A tiger "tore through" the door of an enclosure which had a defective bolt and then "pounced" on a zoo keeper, a witness told an inquest today.

Sarah McClay, 24, was attacked in the keepers' corridor and dragged by the back of her neck into the tiger's den.

Sarah McClay, 24, was attacked in the keepers' corridor Credit: ITV Granada

A visitor to South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, described the moment he saw the tiger walk through the door and on to the corridor as Miss McClay had her back turned.

A jury sitting in Kendal, Cumbria, has heard that systems were place in to ensure that animals and keepers remained apart at all times through indoor and outdoor compartments connected by lockable doors.

Within the tiger enclosure was a light den and a dark den for the tiger which keepers were required to enter in the course of routine duties such as cleaning.

Tiger enclosure at South Lakes Wild Animal Park Credit: ITV Granada

Yesterday the inquest heard that a bolt on the top of the dark den door, which opened on to the keepers' corridor, was found to be defective in the hours following her death on May 24 last year but it could not be said when the damage occurred. An environmental health officer told the jury that the bolt could not be held back and it would bang against the frame when it tried to close, which left a gap of between 20mm and 25mm.

Gareth Bell, 34, from Newcastle, who was visiting the park with his wife and their young children on the day of the attack, described what he saw through the viewing windows of the tiger house.

It is thought he was the only person to witness the attack.

He said he saw a tiger move through an internal sliding gate which linked the light den to the dark den.

Then he moved to another window and saw a zoo keeper with her back to him, putting down a bucket near the slide controls next to the light den door.

In "a split second" the tiger moved through the door of the adjoining dark den which led on to the corridor, he said.

He said:

"I saw it coming through the door. It tore through. It just walked straight through.

"It walked past her first because she was in the corner and it turned to get her.

"She turned around and started. She was not expecting it to be there.

"It turned and pounced. That is when I shouted for help.

"When I looked back I looked where she was. The tiger had her by the back of her neck. It was dragging her back into the (dark) den."

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He said he turned away again to call for assistance and when he looked back the door to the dark den had shut. Mr Bell said he went to the far viewing window and looked into the light den where all he could see was an arm coming out of a sliding gate which led to the dark den.

He told Paul Rogers, representing the wildlife park, that the dark den door was "sufficiently open" for the tiger to get through before the attack.

Mr Bell said he saw another tiger appear on the scene and they were "disputing" as the zoo keeper was dragged into the dark den.

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Jury in tiger death inquest to visit zoo where keeper died

The jury at the inquest into the death of a zoo keeper mauled to death by a tiger in Cumbria will visit the park where she died.

Sarah McClay Credit: ITV Granada

24-year-old Sarah McClay was attacked at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness in 2013.

Yesterday the inquest heard she was doing her "dream job."

South Lakes Wild Animal Park Credit: ITV Granada

Inquest jury to visit South Lakes Wild Animal Park

A Sumatran tiger Credit: PA

The jury at the inquest into the death of a zoo keeper mauled to death by a tiger in Cumbria will visit the park where she died.

24 year old Sarah McClay was attacked at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness in 2013. Yesterday the inquest heard she was doing her "dream job",

Sarah McClay 'died doing her dream job' Credit: ITV Granada Reports
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