Sighs of relief as Darren the giant catfish swims away

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The Independent Online

Disappointment normally follows the one that got away, but with Darren the giant catfish the emotion yesterday was more like relief.

The 40lb, 5ft 7in carnivorous munching machine, usually an inhabitant of great European rivers such as the Danube, posed a monster threat to all forms of water life when he found his way into a small trout stream on the outskirts of London. Fish, waterfowl, dogs, even children were at risk, rumour had it.

Darren, as he was named by residents after Oliver Parker-Grater, 15, caught the fish, is believed to have escaped into the river from a nearby angling lake during the winter floods.

Darren had to climb into the water, straddle the fish and lift it out with his hands. "When I saw it in the water I knew it was a big 'un, but had no idea it was larger than me," he told his local newspaper, The Sevenoaks Chronicle. "But I was not about to let it get away."

When he returned it to the river he broke the law, because catfish should not be released into British rivers, only put into fishing lakes that have no outlet. Such was the concern that officials from the Environment Agency spent four days electro-fishing the river Darent at Eynsford, Kent, to try to find the monster and remove him, but yesterday they admitted he was no longer in the river and had probably swum upstream to the Thames estuary.

The Environment Agency said Oliver, who was unaware he had broken the law, would not be prosecuted.

The wels or European catfish, Silurus glanis, is not native to British waters, but has been imported into Britain for about 100 years. It is attractive to fisheries because of its size. With its ability to grow to 200lb and more, it is very much bigger than any freshwater fish found in the British Isles – the British record is a salmon of 64lb. It has an appetite to match its size, and with its huge wide mouth like a tunnel opening will take other large fish and waterfowl, small animals such as water voles and perhaps even small dogs.

* A pet iguana three and a half feet long that went missing in South Benfleet, Essex, a month ago has been discovered 30 feet up an oak tree in a neighbour's garden.