The mother of an animal trainer who was savaged by a tiger has voiced her support for an Oxford brain injury support group celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.

Jan Chipperfield has hailed the contribution of the Headway centre in Bagley Wood Road, Kennington, for helping her son Richard, 34, overcome horrific brain injuries after he was attacked by Bengal tigers at an American Circus.

Richard, from Southcombe, near Chipping Norton, was part of Oxfordshire's famous Chipperfield's circus and a talented young tiger trainer when he flew out to America to work for a circus run by the renowned Barnum and Bailey Ringling in 1997.

However, Richard's dream turned into a nightmare three months later when Arnie, a seven-year-old tiger, attacked him in St Petersburg, Florida.

Richard, who was in a cage with 12 tigers at the time, was pounced on by the large beast which clamped its jaws around his skull.

The attack stirred several other tigers into action and at one point four big cats were on top of him.

Richard's life was saved by his brother Graham, a lion tamer, who used a fire extinguisher to scare the four cats away before shooting Arnie with a pistol.

The shooting meant Graham was arrested and later released without charge.

Richard was dragged out of the cage and taken to Bayfront Medical Centre where he suffered a stroke due to blood loss. He spent eight days in a coma and the stroke left him paralysed in his right arm, unable to talk and reliant on a stick to walk.

Mrs Chipperfield, 59, said: "When it happened it was a nightmare for the family, but we were lucky that Richard survived because he was young and healthy."

His condition was complicated when he contracted MRSA in the American hospital and it was several months before the slow path to recovery with physiotherapy and speech therapy could begin.

Mrs Chipperfield said: "When you're a young man of 24 you can read, write, go to parties and enjoy yourself and then in one split second that's taken away from you. That's extremely difficult to cope with."

However, after weekly sessions at the Headway Centre over the past two years Mrs Chipperfield says her son's speech has improved.

He is also in email contact with Roy Horn, who was part of the famous Las Vegas illusionists Siegfried and Roy,before he suffered a similar attack from a tiger in 2003.

She said: "Headway has helped Richard enormously.

"His speech has come on massively, more than with therapists and part of that is from having fun while learning.

"Richard's got a lot more confidence and here it helps to know there's lots of young men that have been affected in similar ways, so no-one feels embarrassed.

"I don't honestly know what we would do if this place didn't exist."