Police hunt for 'Beast of Essex'

ITS existence has been a matter of discussion and debate for years but now the elusive Beast of Essex has gained new credibility - after being spotted by one of the county's policemen.

Annie Davidson

ITS existence has been a matter of discussion and debate for years but now the elusive Beast of Essex has gained new credibility - after being spotted by one of the county's policemen.

The officer was on duty in Wivenhoe and was close to the town's police station in High Street when he heard growling and saw a “large black cat”.

The frightened officer, who was on duty at the time, alerted his colleagues and a full-scale search was launched for the creature which ran away down the side of the police station.

No-one else has reported seeing the creature but the incident will give new credibility to the legend of the Beast of Essex which has stemmed from a number of sightings of a large black cat similar to a Puma or Panther across the county although none have ever been captured.

Across the country there are regular reports of large cats - with hot spots in Scotland, Devon and Wales - which believers claim to be the result of pets being released into the wild after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976.

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No trace of the beast was found after the report at 3am on Tuesday but the hunt was resumed the following morning when officers tried to track the route the beast had taken after frightening the policeman.

Yesterday the hapless officer declined to talk about his ordeal being reportedly “too embarrassed” by the attention his big cat sighting had generated.

But a town councillor yesterday claimed that if funding had been secured for security cameras around the site the beast could have been caught on film.

Ken Rogers, councillor with responsibility for community safety and police liaison and chairman of community safety and neighbourhood watch, said yesterday: “I understand it was reported yesterday and they searched the area for clues but did not find anything.

“I recommended some time ago that a CCTV system should be put at the side of the council offices that would cover the post office sorting office, the council workshop, the rear of the police station and the scout hall.

“It would need a maximum of �3,000 for a quality digital system and if you had good quality cameras and recording systems it would be a deterrent.”

He added that to his knowledge there had not been a sighting of the Beast of Essex in Wivenhoe before.

Sgt Lou Middleton, Essex Police's wildlife crimes officer, said: “Officers made initial checks of Wivenhoe but found no trace of the animal.

“On Tuesday we searched for signs of where the cat may have gone but found no evidence.

“We get very infrequent calls, perhaps three or four in the last four years from members of the public reporting seeing something similar to this.

“Sightings come from all over the Colchester and Tendring area. We look into every sighting and take each one very seriously.

“We would like to reassure residents in Wivenhoe they are in no danger, sighting like this are so infrequent that if there is a big cat out there it would be a very shy creature not interested in approaching humans.”

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