Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Hamilton City Council admits fault over fatal tiger attack

The Hamilton City Council has pleaded guilty over the death of one of its senior zoo staff members who was attacked and killed by a tiger.

Hamilton Zoo curator, Samantha Kudeweh, was tragically killed in the enclosure of Sumatran tiger Oz on September 20 last year.

In March, WorkSafe New Zealand announced it will be prosecuting the council for failing to take all practical steps to ensure the 43-year-old was not exposed to hazards arising out of working with Oz.

WATCH: Mum of mauled zoo keeper's heart-breaking interview

This morning, council representatives Lance Vervoort and chief executive Richard Briggs sat in the public gallery of the Hamilton District Court as their lawyer, Mark Hammond, entered a guilty plea on behalf of the council to the charge.

Judge Sharon Otene convicted the council and remanded it to reappear for sentencing on September 13, a week before the anniversary of Mrs Kudeweh's death.

Samantha Kudeweh's husband Richard speaking outside Hamilton District Court yesterday morning. He is flanked by Samantha's sister Desiree Stephens and niece Brooke Allan.
Samantha Kudeweh's husband Richard speaking outside Hamilton District Court yesterday morning. He is flanked by Samantha's sister Desiree Stephens and niece Brooke Allan.

The charge carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

A restorative justice conference is also being held between family and council executives.

Mrs Kudeweh's husband, Richard, her sister, Desiree and brother Fraser, along with mum, Judy, were in court this morning to hear the council admit it's guilt over the incident.

Outside court, Mr Kudeweh says their family had lost a much loved family member due to the carelessness of the council.

Oz, the male Sumatran tiger. Photo / Doug Sherring
Oz, the male Sumatran tiger. Photo / Doug Sherring

"Our kids Billy and Sage have lost their mum, Judy and Lindsey have lost their daughter, Fraser and Desiree have lost their sister, I lost my wife. Obviously the rest of our families, friends and workmates have lost beautiful Sam as well. For us, we understand Sam is not coming back and it is very important to us that the people who are responsible, own up to that, and do something about it. Today the people responsible for the health and safety breach that ultimately killed our Sam have been made to take responsibility for that."

However, it shouldn't have taken nine months for the council to accept what happened, he says.

Hamilton City Council CEO Richard Briggs. Photo / Danielle Nicholson
Hamilton City Council CEO Richard Briggs. Photo / Danielle Nicholson

"Hamilton City Council leadership who are ultimately responsible for the health and safety breach, could have owned that responsibility since September 20 last year, they haven't, and in turn have done so much more damage to us because of it."

Mr Kudeweh says there have been "many opportunities for those people to own that responsibility" including by making crucial changes after the near-miss involving a tiger and a staff member in 2013.

"In 2013 an animal keeper made a mistake. A gate was left open within the Tiger complex. The tiger went through that gate then proceeded to follow the keeper through a number of gates. Eventually that tiger caught up with the keeper, fortunately the keeper was able to get out of that situation without harm. This was a major wake up call. Every effort should have been made to never have that situation occur again. It wasn't. Sam was killed."

- NZ Herald

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