21. The Beast Of Barnet
For ten years the so-called Barnet ‘big cat’ caused confusion in the London suburbs – a few years before the ‘beast’ of Bexley reared its head, even though both were possibly the same animal, or at least part of the same puzzle.
Strangely, in 2001 the press claimed that the elusive wild cat had been caught – after many years of frustrating police searches, fruitless tracking, and numerous sightings of a cat that was one moment black with a long tail, the next fawn-coloured with a long tail and then suddenly mottled with a short tail!
During one flap it was the ‘monster of the M25’, next it was the ‘Cricklewood mystery cat’, when in fact it was neither. However as sceptics mocked as to whether any kind of felid was responsible, up a Eurasian lynx – sighted, cornered and then darted in a back garden, bundled into the back of a van, examined then sent to a zoo. And yet the sceptics still wanted proof!
‘Lara’, as she was dubbed, was nothing like the ‘beast’ the media had invented, and nobody knew where she sprang from, but what was clear was the fact that such a shy animal most certainly wasn’t responsible for the numerous ‘big cat’ sightings over the course of a decade, and probably hadn’t been on the loose for long. Despite an alleged police pursuit of some six hours, the lynx, native to Britain some 4,000 years ago, came quietly.
Police Constable Darryl Green commented that the police had received a call from a woman claiming to have seen a leopard-like cat out of her kitchen window. Worryingly, the officer who took the call laughed. Typical. The animal, with a lame back leg, and looking malnourished, was cornered under a stairway near Avenue Court flats and then darted by a vet.
In September 2001 it was reported that the cat was healthily living at London Zoo, before it was moved on from there. However, sightings of such animals continued in the area, mainly concerning a big, black cat (leopard), whilst reports analysed from 1998 suggested a puma. Neither of these has since turned up in back gardens, and neither is not likely to.
One of the first references to such a cat living in the area came from a written account by farmer, writer and political commentator William Cobbett, who as a boy on 27th October 1825 saw a cat, the size of a spaniel, which went up into a hollow elm tree in Surrey. The account was published in his Rural Rides book. Whilst during the early 1900s reports of a similar cat also came from Surrey and London, with witnesses noting the strange chirping cries that a lynx makes.
So, there has always been a ‘beast’ of Barnet.
By Neil Arnold