Essex: Thirty-one officers and two force helicopters used in ‘lion’ hunt

TWO police helicopters and more than 30 officers were involved in an operation costing thousands of pounds to search for the now famous “Essex lion” last month, it has emerged.

Over the August bank holiday weekend Essex Police responded to reported sightings of a big cat in the Tendring area and focused their investigations on a farm in Clacton.

The story hit the national headlines and was even reported overseas but no evidence was found of a lion on the lose.

New details, revealed through a Freedom of Information request, show that 31 officers and an incident command unit were involved in the operation, as well as the Essex and Suffolk police helicopters.

The force could not provide details about the overall cost of the operation, but could say that the flying time of the helicopters - two hours for the Essex aircraft and four for the Suffolk unit - came in at �600 per hour, leaving a bill of about �3,600.

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A spokesman for Essex Police said it received a call at 6.58pm on August 26 from a member of the public of a report that a lion had been seen in a field.

The spokesman said: “Public safety is our priority which is why we took the sighting and all associated evidence seriously and officers were deployed.

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“Within the first hour of the incident being reported four members of the public had reported seeing a lion and a photograph from one witness had been obtained, which was viewed by staff from Colchester Zoo – who were not able to discount the animal being a lion.

“Within an hour and half of the incident being reported big cat like foot-prints had been located at the location of the original sighting.”

The spokesman said the time each officer had spent at the scene had not been documented and that a rolling shift pattern had been used of on-duty staff, as well as some use of overtime, so it was not possible to tell how many officers had been on the case at any one time.

Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, said he could not criticise the force for its response to the calls.

He said: “The month before then Essex Police had to respond to a gunman on the streets of Clacton who shot dead an off-duty police officer. They have to respond to an extreme variety of circumstances.

“With the benefit of hindsight, maybe they got this one wrong. But nobody ever complains to me that Essex Police has over-responded to something.

“We can all laugh about it now but if an intelligent adult taxpayer reports an incident, the police have a duty to respond to it properly.”

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