Police feared for safety of spectators at big cat show


POLICE stopped a show starring the UK’s last circus big cats because of concerns about audience safety.

Lion tamer Thomas Chipperfield was due to put on a show at a former airbase in Aberdeenshire on May 4 but the local council refused to provide an entertainment licence.

It has now emerged that it was Police Scotland who objected to the granting of the licence.


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The three tigers and two lions involved have spent the winter on a croft in Fraserburgh


Officers’ concerns included “lack of detail” about safety arrangements for the audience.

Police also believed – it appears incorrectly – that Mr Chipperfield’s licence to keep dangerous animals was due to expire shortly before the show.

Posters for ‘An Evening with Lions and Tigers’ at Crimond Airfield, Fraserburgh, appeared around Aberdeenshire in March advertising tickets for sale at £6 for adults and £4 for children.

The three tigers and two lions involved have spent the winter on a croft in Fraserburgh.

The show drew huge objections from animal rights groups, and a children’s charity which was supposed to receive part of the proceeds, withdrew its backing for that performance.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said yesterday (Fri) the force had “no option other than to object”.

She said this was “due to the short timescale and lack of detail including safety provision for spectators, timings and lay out of the event”.


Chipperfield Poster
Lion tamer Thomas Chipperfield was due to put on a show at a former airbase in Aberdeenshire on May 4


The spokeswoman added: “Under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 anyone keeping dangerous wild animals can only do so under the authority of a licence granted by the relevant local authority.”

The spokeswoman said their information was that the licence was due to run out “a matter of days before the event was to take place”.

Police Scotland appear to have made a mistake in this regards as Aberdeenshire Council say the licence was valid until the “autumn”. Mr Chipperfield has provided what he says is documentary evidence that the licence is valid until December 31 this year.

But Aberdeen MSP Kevin Stewart, who has put forward a Parliamentary motion calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses, was delighted police objected to the show.

“It’s a real umbrage that Mr Chipperfield is allowed to keep big cats in cages in St Combs,” he said. “They are being kept in conditions that, I feel, are not right for animals.”

He continued: “In my opinion the Scottish Government must bring forward legislation as soon as possible to ban the use of wild animals in circuses and must stop the storage of any wild circus animals in Scotland.

“A large amount of my constituents have been in touch with me who are really upset at this.”

In the 1950s, Thomas Chipperfield’s family owned the biggest circus in Europe with more than 200 animals including elephants, polar bears, chimps and giraffes.

Now he the only circus big cats in the UK.

Thomas Chipperfield said he was “surprised” to hear that it was the police who stopped his show.

He said: “My animal welfare and safety records are impeccable. I’ve never had any incidents.”

He said there is “no contact” between the animals and the audience. “There is basically a double barrier,” he explained.

Mr Chipperfield continued: “The Dangerous Wild Animals licence is in my name and it expires at the end of the year and not the end of April.”

“In regards to Mr Stewart,” he said. “I would urge him to speak to the animal welfare experts we deal with.

“All the vets and animal welfare experts we deal with don’t have an issue with how we keep our animals.”

The lion tamer added that the people locally are “very supportive” of the show.

Event co-organiser Anthony Beckwith confirmed they are reapplying for an entertainment licence.

“We want to get it up and running as soon as possible,” he said.

He insisted the licence was turned down because of “time scale issues”.