Silly season goes out with a roar, but the Essex lion frenzy proves to be just a cat flap

Police hunt finds nothing to support sightings near caravan park

And so it passes into myth, and joins the Beast of Bodmin, the Surrey puma and other such legendary creatures – the 24-hour wonder that was the Essex lion.

Yesterday, police called off the hunt for this prime example of the king of the jungle, allegedly seen in the somewhat unregal surroundings of a field adjoining a caravan park at St Osyth, near Clacton-on-Sea.

It was the biggest thing to happen to St Osyth since the North Sea floods of 1953. So the eventual police assertion of its non-existence – "we believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wild cat" – produced a palpable sigh of disappointment across the nation, which had quickly become obsessed with it, and in particular the media, which was suffering the effects of a late-onset, post-Olympics silly season.

In its short life, the Essex lion was near the top of every news bulletin. Sky News and the BBC news channel ran plentiful coverage until the hunt was called off, while the Daily Mail, expertly sensitive to the darkest fears of Middle England, gave it the whole front page for some editions of yesterday morning's paper, complete with picture of roaring male lion baring fangs. For this was an August Bank Holiday story that had everything. Not only was our beast an ABC, which is how Alien Big Cats are referred to by cryptozoologists, those amateur animal hunters convinced that the Yeti, the Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are all out there. It was the biggest ABC of all, carrying the suggestion of law-abiding citizens being torn to pieces and eaten.

Yum yum. But more than that, they would be torn to pieces and eaten in Essex – excuse me while I try to stop chortling – seen by some as Britain's most comical county, a land so proud of its own stereotype of flash geezers and women with hair extensions, skyscraper heels, fake tans and trout pouts that there is a TV show devoted to it. And now this.

Imagination ran riot as the mythical beast produced a Twitterstorm. An army of tweeters chuckled, tittered and guffawed online with Essex-lion jokes about big hair and tan-coloured skin. One message, from comedian David Schneider, read: "All I'm saying is I remember when we spotted our first fox in London, and now look how many there are." The @Essexlion spoof account attracted nearly 40,000 followers before Twitter suspended it.

But all the while, Essex Police were taking the suggestion of a lion on the loose seriously and had employed helicopters with heat-seeking equipment, armed officers and vets with tranquiliser guns (no figures were available for the cost of the operation). They had little choice. Witnesses swore it was a lion. Rich Baker, 39, from Romford, Essex, who was staying in a nearby caravan, said: "It was a million per cent a lion."

Yet eventually, the search drew a blank, and an Essex Police spokesman was forced to concede: "Nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area."

In the Middle Ages, they had books called bestiaries, which were compilations of both real and mythical creatures, beautifully illustrated by monks. Maybe we need a British bestiary now. The Beast of Bodmin would go right in. So would the Surrey puma. And the Essex lion – why, that would have the place of honour.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn