Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Cats Amongst The Pigeons

Anyone who's lived in the UK for a few years will be familiar with the perennial "I saw a big cat" story that crops up in the media from time to time.

Broadly, it goes something like this: A fairly ordinary individual catches sight of something very much out of the ordinary but of a large and feline persuasion. Until recently, being an ordinary individual, they almost never had a camera about their person and so were unable to substantiate their claim. More recently, some of them have been carrying mobile phones with on board cameras, enabling them to (sometimes) grab a quick, indistinct snap of something that might be a cat.

Unfortunately, cellphone cameras being what they are, detail is lacking. Worse, handled by rank amateurs, they show nothing to prove the size of the alleged animal, or how far away it was. Even when the pictures are definitely cat shaped, there's nothing to conclusively prove whether we're looking at a tiger or Tiddles.

These hapless individuals dutifully report their sighting to the police, who may, or may not, take them seriously, and eventually the press get hold of the story. The pictures are produced, printed and instantly ridiculed by armchair critics who - quite rightly - point out that they don't prove anything. I imagine that the poor buggers who spot the creatures and report them become the butt of many a jolly jape, and live to regret the public spirited instinct that led them to open their mouths about what they saw.

All of which is, of course, human nature at its finest. We love scare stories, we like mysteries and simply adore mocking those who have been mysteriously scared witless by something they cannot now prove to have existed. Until today, that is. For, according to both the Telegraph and the Sun, the Forestry Commission - a Government agency, no less - has been aware of the existence of these beasts since 2002 and has said nothing.

It's taken a request under the Freedom of Information Act to lever confirmation of two positive sightings out of them, but it turns out that the sightings were made in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, during the three-yearly deer surveys of 2002 and 2005. Deputy surveyor Rob Guest caught sight of the big cats while using thermal imaging equipment, although he couldn't identify their species beyond "a large, full cat".

So there you have it. Anyone who's ever been mocked for reporting a big cat on the loose, particularly in the Forest of Dean area, can rest assured that they weren't, in fact, losing the plot, they were, in fact, right, and those big buggers really are out there - if that's the sort of thing that makes you rest assured, that is. Of course, there's still the question of compensation to consider. After all, many of these people will have suffered needless ridicule for up to 7 years, during which time a Government agency has been aware of the truth of their claims but has chosen to keep it secret. I'd have thought some sort of cash apology might be in order.

I'd also suggest that this is just one more example of how New Labour likes to keep secrets. What else haven't we been told? UFOs? Loch Ness monster? Gordon Brown-Trousers saves the world? Don't believe what they tell you - believe what they DON'T tell you!

Billy Seggars.

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