Colchester Zoo has been fined for exposing workers to one of the most dangerous types of asbestos.

The zoo also did not follow the correct procedures for removing the substance and did not bring in specialist contractors.

A court heard the zoo is taking civil action over a report it commissioned from experts on asbestos.

The zoo admitted 12 charges brought by Colchester Council over asbestos at a hay barn and was fined £35,000 and £3,398 costs.

After the hearing, zoo director Anthony Tropeano said it was the result of a genuine error.

He said: “Based on the level of fines imposed, it’s clear to us the court acknowledged this as being the case.

“Colchester Zoo deeply regrets on this one occasion, as a result of an administrative oversight, proper procedures were not followed.

“Procedures were immediately reviewed and Colchester Zoo is confident this situation could not arise today.”

Chelmsford Crown Court heard the zoo should have employed specialist contractors to remove asbestos sheets from the barn, but used its own maintenance staff.

Staff wore the right protective clothing but had no specialist training in how to deal with asbestos, the court heard.

A forklift truck was used to remove some panels but staff were not qualified to use the vehicle.

Staff removed 99.7 per cent of the asbestos and a specialist firm cleared the rest.

Peter Drayton, the boss of Southern Asbestos Services, said it had been a “good clean-up job” by staff.

The zoo was prosecuted by Colchester Council after breaking 12 health and safety regulations between May 8 and June 27 last year.

Srephen Harvey QC, representing the zoo, said it was not a deliberate act.

An expert’s report on the asbestos did not make clear a specialist contractor should have been called in, Mr Harvey said.

The zoo had an exemplary record and a reputation as being one of the top zoos in the world, he added.

Mr Harvey said civil proceedings had begun over the report the zoo received.

A spokesman for Colchester Council said it was pleased to have concluded the prosecution.

He added: “Those responsible for commercial or business premises have a health and safety duty to others working there.

“Our food and safety team carries out regular checks on local businesses to ensure safe and healthy working conditions are provided.

“We hope the sentence sends out a clear message that the council is committed to identifying and prosecuting businesses not operating within health and safety guidelines.”