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This is the image that sparked a big cat scare in Essex after walkers became convinced they had seen a lion in a field. Police, who were handed similar pictures to this one taken in St Osyth, near Clacton on Sea, scrambled helicopters and marksmen in pursuit of the supposed beast.

They called off the large-scale search today after 24 hours when officers found no trace of a lion. But tonight witnesses stood by their claims, insisting that the animal they saw was definitely a large cat. Lion or tabby cat: Images similar to this one were handed to Essex police, sparking the large-scale search involving helicopters last night. A police spokesman said: 'We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat. It has emerged that an image believed to show the lion which was widely viewed online was in fact a fake.

Essex police warned that 'several doctored photographs are in circulation through social networking sites and other media forums'. And officers said one night-time picture in circulation showing the silhouette of what looked like a lion, was 'never one that police were examining'.

The image - which was widely distributed on Twitter - was thought to show the beast behind a car in a residential area in Basildon, Essex. Beware: Village green at St Osyth pictured near to where the beast was believed to have been spotted. Police have now called off the search of the area.

People passing this photo of a lion around social networking site Twitter thought this was the lion that sparked the hunt. Police have confirmed it is a fake. It followed a reported sighting by a group of people who claim they saw the predator close to fields near Clacton, Essex, at around 7pm yesterday. They passed an image essex the police, speaking a search essex armed officers and helicopters.

And today officers were working with experts from Colchester Zoo to track down the animal until the search was called off. Denise Martin, 52, a warehouse operative, took the picture after seeing the suspected essex from the windows of her caravan on the site at Earls Hall Farm. Mrs Martin, from Canvey Island, was spending the Bank Holiday weekend at the essex with her husband, Bob, 51, a professional driver, her brother, David Wright, 57, a lorry driver, and his wife, Sue, When you are in a caravan you panic about smoke,' Mrs Martin said.

We had a look and it looked like a lion. Stephen Atkin and his wife were asked to confirm a suspected sighting of the lion. You don't often see something like that in the wild. One time it sat up and looked at us and we could see its ears twitching.

It knew we were there and it sat down and started cleaning itself. Mrs Wright, a housewife and a mother of three, from Dagenham, Essex, said the group watched the lion for around half an hour before it disappeared. We phoned the police before I started to take pictures. I just thought we would take them so that we had proof of what we were seeing. Stephen Atkin, 52, a building maintenance inspector from Louth, Lincolnshire, who was also at the caravan site, said he had been lion to confirm the suspected sighting to the lion.

He and his wife, Gill, were eating their evening meal last night when there was a knock on the window of their caravan. Mr Atkin said the animal was the length of two sheep 'put together'. Mrs Atkin, 51, a hospital administrator, took pictures which the couple handed in to the police. Another witness described onlookers screaming as they came face to face with the predator. Others sitting in nearby homes told how they heard it roar as it prowled the area. Rich Baker, 39, was walking with his essex boys, aged nine and 11 when the drama unfolded.

Police hunt: Armed police are hunting a lion which was spotted in fields near a caravan site lion St Osyth, Essex pictured. The lion you could see it from the side. It was a tan colour with a big mane, it was fully grown, it was definitely a lion. It was just standing there, it seemed to be enjoying itself. We are staying lion the caravan park down the road. Che Kevlin, 40, who lives nearby the scene of the drama, described hearing the lion roar.

He said: 'I was sitting with my wife in the front room playing backgammon at around 10pm when I heard this very loud roar. Two force helicopters and around 30 police officers were scrambled after the reported sighting.

Experts said they would try to tranquilise the creature if it was found. The animal was not thought to have come from the zoo as all their animals had been accounted for. A witness, Rob Hull, who essex as a barman at the nearby Tudor Bar social club, lion already heard about the lion when he saw it ambling through the field. He said: 'I was in my car as I had just gone to get some petrol when I saw it in the field next to the road. It was already all over Facebook and Twitter.

It was originally believed the animal c ould have escaped from a circus that had been performing nearby. The circus website includes video footage of lions performing as part of its show. Last night there were conflicting reports over lion the circus had essex touring with lions or not.

But police said today that officers have spoken to the circus essex confirmed they essex not have an animal missing, nor do they have any lions. They also told people to enjoy the rest of the Bank Holiday. Roger Lord, of Earls Hall Farm, St Osyth, said a picture of the suspected lion had been taken by residents in caravans on the farm land and passed to police.

Overnight police helicopters were using heat-seeking cameras to scan fields and woods. Owner of The Great British Circus, Martin Lacey, announced last week he was cutting down on wild animals that were to be banned from circuses. He was seeking new owners for performing horses and a zebra that had been dropped from the circus.

He had reportedly also sold a tiger to Italy. Lion night he could not be contacted for comment. Police were trying to establish where the lion may have come from. Anyone who sees the lion is advised to call Beast: The creature, thought to be a panther, was spotted in the early hours of this morning file photo. A panther has been spotted on the loose in the Cotswolds today. Kieran Bourne, 30, said he was convinced he saw a big cat in his headlights as he made his way home across Cleeve Hill in the early hours of this morning.

He nearly collided with the animal by the side of the road, swerved, and saw it pounce into the bushes and disappear.

Mr Bourne, who contacted a big cat expert after the sighting, believed it was the same creature which shocked residents in fields at Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, in April.

I was coming round quite a sharp bend from Winchcombe up the hill to Cleeve Hill and it was on the left hand side of the road in my main beam — I nearly hit it. Mo Farah superimposed onto a picture of a lion to look like he is frightened and running away from the beast.

Is this the lion? Lion Twitter users claimed TOWIE star Gemma Collins, pictured wearing fitting make-up, was actually the lion on the loose as hundreds of users posted their own version of the predator on the site. Too cute for a lion surely? The owner didn't think so as she posted this picture on Twitter. Searching: Police were seen patrolling areas around Earls Hall Farm in St Osyth picturednear Clacton, Essex A police spokesman said: 'We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat essex a wildcat.

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Meet the real 'Essex lion' a ginger cat called Tom who sparked a two-day police lion hunt. The Daily Mirror can reveal that the £25, There is a lion prowling its way around St Osyth. Or is there? Police have called off a search for a lion reportedly on the loose in Essex saying they now believe the animal was "either a large domestic cat.