Couple who claim to have seen the Essex lion insist the beast is still at large


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The Independent Online

Just when you though it was safe to go back on Clacton seafront, the couple who sparked a major police hunt after spotting what they believed was a runaway lion insisted the beast was still at large.

Gill and Steve Atkin, who are holidaying at a caravan park near the Essex resort, rejected newspaper claims that they had seen a large domestic cat called Teddy Bear belonging to a local woman.

“Whatever it was, it's definitely still out there,” said Mrs Atkin from Louth in Lincolnshire.

Mr Atkin reported the sighting of a “very large animal … possibly a lion” to police on Sunday prompting a helicopter search involving firearms officers as well as a media field day on a quiet Bank Holiday Monday.

But the hunt was eventually called off by Essex Police when it could find no trace of the animal.

“We witnessed it, I would say, for about 20 to 30 minutes cleaning itself and rolling about in the field, Mr Atkin told the BBC.

Essex Police have yet to disclose the cost of the operation to find the lion but a spokesman said the incident was not being treated as a hoax.

Today's media attention was also focused on the prowlings of Teddy Bear. The three-year-old Maine Coon - a large breed which which can grow to up to 25lbs and measure more than three feet long - was being pursued by photographers close to its home in St Osyth.

Owner Ginny Murphy, who watched the drama unfold on television in Liverpool conceded it was an easy mistake to make. "From a distance, because he has a light-coloured mane he does look a little lion like. I can see why someone would think that," she said. The drama in Essex prompted a flurry of interest in big cat sightings in other parts of the country.

One motorist contacted experts after claiming to have nearly hit a black panther while driving at Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds.