Politics: Questions about the Norfolk Gnasher bring out the beasts in Westminster

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The Independent Online
It looks a little like an unfortunate case of regional one-upmanship. As controversy rages in the West Country over the Beast of Bodmin, the East of England has come up with its own version.

The Norfolk Gnasher has been seen at least 54 times since the beginning of July, according to police in Norwich. One farmer has reported finding a mutilated, half-eaten lamb half way up one of his trees. Others have suffered attacks on chickens and even a horse.

As ministers faced calls for a full inquiry yesterday into sightings of a similar black beast near Bodmin, MPs from Norfolk were beginning to ask questions about their own phenomenon.

Keith Simpson, the MP for Mid-Norfolk, said rumours of such a beast had been circulating for some time. But he was astonished by the latest figures.

Tony Bone, a former policeman who runs an organisation called Farmwatch, has been keeping an eye on the Norfolk phenomenon. "This is not a figment of someone's over-active imagination," he said. "I have no doubt it exists, but so far it hasn't been a problem to human life." Mr Bone said he did not believe the animal had come from a local zoo, but thought it might have had a private owner.

A police spokeswoman said the force was taking the reports seriously, but its officers had not managed yet to catch sight of the animal.

Not everyone in Norfolk is taking the issue too seriously.

Mr Simpson suggested that many people were reluctant to go to the police for fear of being regarded as mad. Even he was nervous that he might be labelled as one catnip short of a full packet after asking Parliamentary Questions on the subject.

"People have been asking if Simpson is Norfolk's big cat in Westminster. One of my Labour colleagues keeps miaowing at me. If he carries on, I'm going to scratch him," he said.