Animal lovers who don’t accept that the Croydon cat mutilations were the work of foxes scavenging roadkill have launched a furious backlash against the police.
Some have accused the Metropolitan Police of dropping the case to save money. Others have suggested that blaming the scavenging animals was a “convenient” way to finally end the three-year-long investigation while justifying senior officers’ enthusiasm for fox hunting.
The couple who first raised the alarm over the ‘Croydon cat killer’ have vowed to continue the search for a human culprit, and animal rights supporters have started a petitionwhich demands the police reopen the investigation and tells officers: “Stop trying to turn foxes into evil creatures when they’re not. You’re making yourselves look like brainless idiots.”
The outbursts come despite the police explaininghow they consulted experts including the head of Veterinary Forensic Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, who conducted post mortems on three cats and two rabbits and concluded the mutilations were caused by predators or scavengers.
She also found fox DNA around the wound sites on all five bodies.
Decapitation and tail removal had come to be seen as among the most disturbing aspects of the alleged cat ripper’s modus operandi, but the Met said this could be explained by scientific knowledge of how wildlife can remove heads and tails while scavenging roadkill.
The police’s explanation also appears consistent with information offered by some respected wildlife sources.
The website of BBC Wildlife magazine, for example, states: “Foxes often chew the head off first – headless (or tailless) carcasses are typical of foxes.”
The Met also found CCTV of three different foxes carrying cat body parts.
The police said that in one incident, in July 2017, “a witness found the body of a cat with no head or tail next to her property.
“Suspecting that the cat had been placed there, she checked CCTV and saw a fox drop the cat in the position in which it was found.”
In the two other incidents, one fox was seen carrying a cat’s head into a playground and the other was caught on camera depositing a cat head in a garden.
One Twitter critic, however, insisted: “Foxes do not leave cat heads outside their owners’ homes. Foxes do not mutilate cats in a similar manner. This is absurd!!
“Police are starting to fail our pets too!!”
“The police have no idea,” added another critic. “Foxes don't remove heads place them in the owners garden and kick in the cat flap do they? I’m angry that they close the case when there's a twisted human out there.”
Echoing such anger and also suggesting hunters would use the police’s conclusion to unfairly damage the reputation of foxes, another twitter user wrote: “Police have either lost interest or ran out of money. This will be the next story the Tories will use to get away with fox hunting! It’s absolute bullsh*t!”
Ollie O’Donoghue suggested the police’s conclusion seemed suspiciously “convenient”.
“It's just a very convenient closure for everyone,” he wrote. “Police can avoid the work, and their bosses can justify hopping on horseback and chasing foxes with dogs all weekend.”
A tiny minority of animal lovers turned to seemingly outlandish reasons for the police decision. A twitter user calling themselves “SiameseCatTwins4Ever” wrote: “Interesting; two days after I tweeted about the possibility of a police officer doing these killings, to explain how the killer might avoid detection, the police say ‘Investigation's over’.”
The RSPCA also faced fury, because it appeared to have backed the police decision.
When an RSPCA official tried to explain aspects of the police’s reasoning on twitter, they were accused of “[shamefully] colluding with the Met Police”.
A change.org petition started six months ago by animal rights supporters in Carshalton, near Croydon, to urge the police to “put more effort into catching the cat killer”, has now been amended with the update: “They’re giving up, we can’t let this happen!”
On Friday afternoon it was attracting signatures at a rate of about one every three minutes.
Stating "It sounds like they’re trying to find reasons to make a fox cull happen”, the petitioners told police: “Stop trying to turn foxes into these evil creatures when they’re not and find the real HUMAN murderer. You’re making yourselves look like brainless idiots.”
Some animal lovers were also backing Boudicca Rising and her partner Tony Jenkins, the founders of South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (Snarl), in their decision to continue investigating without police.
Ms Rising and Mr Jenkins, who first raised the alarm about a possible human cat killer, issued a lengthy statement on their Facebook page explaining why they remained convinced the culprit was a person.
“The cats who have been decapitated have had their heads removed in exactly the same manner and place each time,” they wrote. “Where we have recovered both head and body, the same small part is missing from each.
“We find it difficult to understand how foxes can replicate this perfectly across a range of victims across a vast geographical area.”
The statement on the Snarl facebook page added: “There was a case where a rabbit was killed and … his liver was placed at the bottom of the garden on a raised stone, with a trail of fur leading to it. The next night, the owner’s locked catflap was kicked in and the victim’s collar placed on the stone his liver had been. That’s not foxes.
“In West Wickham, a cat’s collar was returned five months after the cat was killed. That’s not foxes.”
Despite the fury it has provoked, the police’s conclusion that scavenging wildlife was responsible for the mutilations seems to have parallels with what has happened in some other “animal ripper” investigations.
In the Croydon cat killer case, police have now said that re-examination of the six mutilated cats which initially sparked their investigation revealed “puncture wounds not found previously on some of the animals [suggesting] some had been potentially scavenged.”
In South Florida in 2009, police got as far as arresting and charging an 18-year-old with mutilating 19 cats before dropping the casewhen a veterinary pathologist showed how prosecutors had failed to peel back the dead cats’ skin to reveal the tell-tale bite marks of carnivores.
The teenager’s lawyer said he had been the victim of “a lynch mob”.
In 2003, in Aurora, Colorado, a year-long investigation of a spate of cat mutilations ended a month after police consulted wildlife experts who concluded the culprits were foxes, coyotes and pet dogs.
The Colorado investigators were initially puzzled by the lack of blood at the ‘crime scenes’. In the same way, an absence of blood trails in Croydon prompted speculation that the “ripper” waited for victims’ blood to coagulate or removed them to a secret site before beginning the mutilation.
In Colorado, however, the experts eventually attributed the absence of blood trails to the killing and feeding patterns of predators.
In the UK in the 1980s and 1990s fears of “horse rippers” was so great that in some places, owners slept in stables to protect their animals and parents were warned not to let their children check on their ponies at night.
But in 2001, an investigator who had spent 15 years examining suspected ripper cases said that in all but a tiny minority of cases, the horses’ injuries could clearly be explained by the actions of the animal itself or by the feeding behaviour of scavenging wildlife.