'Essex lion was my pet cat Teddy Bear' - owner

Ginny Murphy said Teddy Bear regularly patrols the area where the "big cat" was photographed

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A woman has claimed sightings of a "lion"- which sparked an extensive search by Essex Police - were of her large pet cat, Teddy Bear.

A search for the "very large animal" seen in St Osyth, near Clacton-on-Sea, on Sunday was called off on Monday.

Ginny Murphy said her ginger Maine Coon cat, the largest domestic breed, regularly wanders into the field where the animal was spotted.

She said she believes Teddy Bear was mistaken for a lion by holidaymakers.

'Like to hunt'

A search by police was triggered on Sunday evening when people staying at a caravan park reported sightings of "a very large animal" near Earl Hall Drive.

Image of 'lion' in St Osyth Gill and Steve Atkin took this photograph of what they said appeared to be a "very large animal"

Experts from Colchester Zoo and police firearms officers helped in the search.

Police decided to call off the search after no trace of a big cat was found and they said the sightings were either of a large domestic cat or wildcat.

Ms Murphy, of St Osyth, said: "From the picture, he's identical - he's big, he's always out in the fields.

"Maine Coons like to hunt, and where he was is a particular area he likes to go.

"He's always coming back with birds."

Her three-year-old pet is about 28in (70cm) in length.

At the scene

We think we've found the cat which started the Essex "lion" hunt.

He's called Teddy Bear and he's a Maine Coon cat, which are bigger than your average cat.

His owner Ginny Murphy thinks it was Teddy Bear which was photographed.

But whether it was Teddy Bear or not, the "lion" hunt really caught the public's imagination.

And if it was indeed Teddy Bear, then the description - in some quarters - of the police search as "operation pussy cat" would seem all the more accurate.

Gill and Steve Atkin, of Louth, Lincolnshire, photographed an animal in the field on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Atkin had told police it was "definitely a very large animal, and possibly a lion, definitely a large cat".

He added: "We witnessed it, I would say, for about 20 to 30 minutes cleaning itself and rolling about in the field."

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Mrs Atkin said: "The Mirror [newspaper] has made a bit of a farce of it this morning, saying it was a cat called Tom, but no, I don't think it was a domestic cat.

"Whatever it was, it's definitely still out there."

The first reported sighting was made by holidaymaker Bob Martin, who said he and his wife Denise saw a large cat and a lion "was the first thing that came to mind".

Cost of search

"We believe we saw a large cat looking at a tree... it just sat there looking at us," he said.

Essex Police have not released any details of the cost of the search, but have said about 25 officers were called to where the animal was seen, including specialist firearms officers and experts from Colchester Zoo.

Two police helicopters, one with thermal imaging equipment, were also used to try to detect any trace of an animal.

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