A CUMBRIAN zoo has been fined £255,000 after one of its employees was killed by a Sumatran tiger.

Sarah McClay, 24, was pounced on in the keeper's corridor of the tiger house at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, on May 24, 2013.

The company, whose sole director David Gill founded the zoo, entered guilty pleas at Preston Crown Court on Wednesday to contravening health and safety laws on the day of the tragedy.

It was fined an additional £42,500 after it had also pleaded guilty to other health and safety law breaches when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats on July 18, 2014.

It must also pay £150,000 prosecution costs.

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: "But as a substantially contributory cause as a result of a door-closing mechanism failure, it did.

"The result was as tragic as it was foreseeable. The tiger attacked and Sarah was fatally injured."

The judge said the incident the following year involving a ladder was "an accident waiting to happen".

South Lakes Safari Zoo Ltd admitted that on or before May 24, 2013, it failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees - including Miss McClay - arising out of and/or in connection with the keeping of big cats.

It also pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that persons not in its employment on the above date were not exposed to risk to their health and safety.

The pleas came ahead of a scheduled trial, and the prosecution offered no evidence against Mr Gill, 55, who had faced individual charges on the same allegations.

Miss McClay suffered "unsurvivable" multiple injuries and was airlifted from the scene to hospital where she was formally pronounced dead.

In September 2014, an inquest jury in Kendal ruled in a narrative verdict that Padang the Sumatran tiger got to Miss McClay by entering two open internal sliding gates within the tiger house, and then an open door from the tiger's "dark den" that led on to the corridor.

Systems were in place at the park to ensure 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.

Two internal sliding gates were also open, which allowed Padang and his female companion, Alisha, to move in and out of a light den and a dark den to the outside enclosure.

The company accepted its risk assessment did not address sufficiently the risks arising from a failure to maintain the dark den door - labelled in court as "the last line of defence" for the animal keepers.

The company said "a more proactive maintenance and inspection regime" should have been in place to ensure the door functioned efficiently and its self-closing mechanism worked properly.

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

In victim personal statements read in court, Miss McClay's mother, Fiona McClay, from Linlithgow, Scotland, said she felt responsible for her daughter's death because she had "encouraged her to take a full time position at the zoo".

She added: "It feels like my own life ended when my child died."

Miss McClay had been in a relationship since 2005 with boyfriend David Shaw and he said he had found it hard to live without her.

She was "the soul" of the house they shared and she had designed, and he could not bear to move some of her possessions.

Brother Stephen described her as "a positive person, honest, caring and witty", whose death had left "a big hole in my life", while sister Lucy said she did not know how to enjoy Christmases and birthdays as her sister "always took the lead and was the organiser".

In mitigation, Ben Compton QC said his client wanted to express its "deep regret" at the death of Miss McClay.

He said: "For those working at the zoo, including David Gill, the horror of that day will never be forgotten as well nor the memories of her.

"People who worked with her said she was young, intelligent, bubbly, competent, loved her job and was one of the most popular people there. Good at everything she did."

Mr Compton submitted that the court should take into account the financial position of the company and the benefits it brought to the region.

He said it would never be known exactly what happened on the day of the tragedy.

"Things have now changed and a more sufficient maintenance regime has been put in place," he said.

Mr Justice Turner said no value could be placed upon the life of Miss McClay who he said was "clearly loved" by her family who had found her loss "hard-hitting".

He said: "This is not just a death which happened in a way that was clinical and completely instantaneous. This was a death which was particularly shocking."

The court heard the zoo - licensed by Barrow Council - was inspected by Defra four days before Miss McClay's death.