Update: Police call off search for suspected lion in St Osyth
POLICE have called off their search for a suspected lion that was believed to be loose in the Essex countryside.
Officers were called shortly before 7pm on Sunday following a reported sighting of what holidaymakers described as a lion sitting in a field off Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton.
Police spent the night searching for any trace of an animal and the operation continued this morning.
However, the force ended the search at 2pm today after finding no trace of any big cat.
A police spokesman said: “We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat.
“Extensive searches have been carried out, areas examined and witnesses spoken to; yet nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area.
“We would like to thank the local community and holidaymakers for their patience and support throughout the past 24 hours as the police and media presence would have been somewhat overwhelming for them.”
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Public safety had remained at the forefront of the policing operation, with the force advising people to once again return to normal life.
Officers from Essex police had been working with experts from Colchester Zoo who believed the reports to be genuine after being shown a photograph from a member of the public.
Denise Martin, 52, who was staying at the Earl’s Hall Farm Caravan Club site with her husband, Bob, 51, was the first person to see the large cat.
The couple, from Canvey Island, went out to investigate because they saw smoke coming from a field and thought there was fire.
“As the smoke started to clear, I could see a shape across the field and I was convinced it was a lion,” she said. “I showed Bob - he was so excited that there was a lion in the field.
“With the naked eye, you could see it was a lion - it was bigger than a German Shepherd, and it was female.
“It was too far away for us to be scared. It was looking at us, its ears were twitching. She was quite content to just watch us.”
Mrs Martin estimated the lion was in the field for about an hour before it slouched down and crawled off into the bushes.
Her husband added: “I looked and I was convinced I could see a lion so rushed and got the binoculars out - it looked so real.
“It was very, very convincing. It was the height of it, it was the way it was moving.
“It was cleaning itself as if it had just eaten - just like you see these things on television.”
The sighting was confirmed by Mrs Martin’s brother, Dave Wright, 57, who was staying in a neighbouring caravan with his wife, Sue, 58.
The couple, from Dagenham, were able to capture some images of the “lion” on a digital camera from about 200 yards away.
Mrs Wright, said: “We watched it for a good half an hour before it disappeared.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we were looking at a lion, a female lion because it did not have a mane. It was obviously not a domestic cat or a dog. It was a lion. This is certainly not a hoax.”
Roger Lord, who co-owns the site, was alerted to the incident when police called him.
He rushed down to the caravans and was able to see the “lioness” through binoculars.
“I had a look through the binoculars and said ‘that’s a cat’ - it was sitting in stubble that was six to eight inches high and you could just see its head sticking out of the top,” he said. “I am sceptical - I think it might just well be a large domestic cat but they certainly saw something that they were concerned about and they went down the right route to the police.”
Stephen Atkin, 52, a building maintenance inspector from Louth, Lincolnshire, was also staying at the caravan site with his wife, Gill.
“We witnessed it, I would say, for about 20 to 30 minutes cleaning itself and rolling about in the field,” he said. He said the animal was the length of two sheep “put together”.
Mrs Atkin, 51, a hospital administrator, took pictures which the couple handed in to the police. “I did not think it was a lion as its ears were too pointed but it was really big.”
Paul Pollard, 30, who lives in St Osyth, and is a DJ for Dreamwave Events, said: “We didn’t hear much last night, most of it was rumours picking up off the internet. We have heard this morning police have discovered some footprints.
“I thought it was a wind up but then we quickly realised it was more serious. My cousin saw a helicopter land in a field.”
Pub landlord Dave Sparks, who runs the Red Lion pub in St Osyth, described the police hunt as “surreal”.
He said: “You don’t really expect to be told there’s a lion wandering around the area.
“No one really felt there was any immediate danger in the village - a couple of families with young children were a bit worried but after a while they were ok.”
Che Kevlin said he heard what he believed to be a roar whilst out walking his dog last night.
“I heard a loud roar at 10pm. It sounded like a lion,” he told the BBC.
“It was worrying as we had just been for a walk with the dog. We saw the police helicopter but thought it was just searching for a person.
“It sounded like the roar of a lion. We have a field and wood just behind our fence, so you never know.”