ONGAR gained national attention in the late 1990s following sightings of a strange large cat in the surrounding countryside.

Quickly dubbed the 'Beast of Ongar' by some enthusiastic residents – and journalists – the creature was even investigated by the presenters of BBC1 wildlife series X-Creatures in 1998, who concluded it was a shy European lynx.

The slick black panther-like animal presumably had a short holiday from the region as sightings were few and far between over the next few years, but there was an explosion in sightings again in the mid-noughties.

Some farmers even feared for the safety of their livestock after a number of mysterious attacks on horses, as “evidence” including strange footprints and curious droppings began to pile up.

However the animal has not been seen since it was last glimpsed by two schoolboys in Coopersale in March 2009.

Kay Hayden, 65, spotted the beast near her home in Toot Hill in October 2003.

She said: “It was quite a talking point but it hasn't been seen for a considerable period of time now.

“You just don't know how long these things live for, perhaps it is dead now.

“When I saw it the fields had just been harvested. I saw it bounding along, it had a long tail and just looked like a very big cat.

“It's been one of those curious things.”