Archive for August, 2013

Is a Big Cat preying upon the local dogging community?










In spite of the plethora of ghosts said to haunt Lethmachen, unexplained deaths in the town are thankfully few and far between. Hence the sudden death of beloved father of two, Olly Boote, has fuelled much conjecture in the local pubs and local papers. But can his death really be labelled unexplained? Although The Lethmachen Echo has remained characteristically prim in addressing the circumstances, evidence supports the rumours that 51 year old Mr Boote led a clandestine second life as a participant in the local ‘dogging’ community. Over the last few years, those with homes on Lethmachen Hill have become increasingly vocal in expressing their concerns about the immoral, unsavoury activity they believe to be taking place under cover of darkness. They have also commandeered The Echo’s letters page to vent their frustration at the apparent lack of police concern. The police responded that their hands were tied as no specific criminal incident had ever been reported. Until someone comes forward detailing the unlawful acts they have witnessed, local law enforcement simply doesn’t have the manpower to post nocturnal sentries at every concealed lay-by or picnic area. ‘Naturally most of us never feel the urge to wander around the hill at night so we don’t actually see these things,’ explained hill warden and resident Derek Paisley ‘The worry is knowing that people are out there, hidden from sight and carrying on in secret’. Perhaps, as the police would have us believe, Mr Boote suffered a fatal heart attack in the woods as a result of some sexual misdemeanour.  However, associates of his have approached us with an alternative story.

Although reluctant to speak to the mainstream press, these valuable witnesses have contacted us as they appreciate the anonymity guaranteed by this site and also our willingness to keep an open mind. For a community obviously eager not to draw attention to themselves or the places they inhabit after dark, it is worth noting how insistent all of Mr Boote’s fellow ‘doggers’ were that the investigation into his death needs to be reopened and pursued with more conviction. ‘I was with them that found the body’ one informant told us ‘and it was the look in his eyes, just total fear and panic. Not a sex thing at all…’ The location of the body has also raised questions. ‘There was no reason for him to be that far from the car park, that deep in the woods’ commented another present that night ‘It was as if he had been running away, trying to escape something. The strain must have been too much for him’. Some of those interviewed also suspected a connection between the death of Mr Boote and an earlier incident involving one of their own: the unreported disappearance of a man known only as ‘Colly’. ‘With the dogging scene, people like to keep their privacy, no questions asked’ a ‘close friend’ said ‘But Colly was a face you would recognise, although nobody knew where he came from or ever saw him leave. People drift in and out; other commitments, other lives. It took us a while to realise he hadn’t been there, but when I talked to the wife about it, we both agreed he had been behaving strangely the last time we saw him. Sort of agitated, reckoned he had been followed through the woods by some kind of animal, he couldn’t say exactly what. Maybe a large cat or a stray dog…’

Initially reluctant to disclose what they were driving at, a story nonetheless begins to emerge, through suggestion and innuendo. Our interviewees fear that an unidentified but savage, carnivorous animal is stalking the environs of Lethmachen Hill and preying upon members of the local dogging community. Their chosen lifestyle renders them easy targets, as they add to their own vulnerability by selecting secluded, heavily wooded areas as their rendezvous points. In their eyes Mr Boote was a not a victim of the beast with two backs, but The Beast of Lethmachen. They claim this theory is substantiated by reports of tracks found on footpaths, shadows slipping amongst the trees and panting close at hand. Many of our readers will already have sounded a note of caution here. Not only does this ‘evidence’ bring to mind tales of smugglers fabricating phantoms on the marshes to draw attention away from their nefarious activities, it also strongly resembles folk tales of supernatural animals common across the UK. For example, the Black Shuck of legend is a ghostly dog whose appearance is dreaded as an omen of death (Lethmachen poet Obby Robinson recently dedicated verse to this sinister creature). Yet should we really be so eager to dismiss such sightings? Every year we hear reports of big cats prowling Bodmin or Exmoor, and although some folklorists view these incidents as little more than modernised myths, it may be significant that The Shire Safari Park is located only a few miles outside Lethmachen. Although the park owners declined to comment, it is possible that in the past an escape has been hushed up, that they have lost a puma or two. Even closer to home, it has been alleged that, with the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, a number of landowning families on Lethmachen Hill released their menageries of exotic pets into the wild, unwilling to pay for licenses or waste time on regulatory red tape. Or could it be the recent, much protested building developments on the flanks of the hill has driven such creatures out of hiding, as familiar habitats and hunting grounds are destroyed?

Before the sceptics dismiss all of these theories as wild conjecture, at least a hint of corroboration can be offered. Of late we have been compiling a portfolio of similar experiences. The same night that Olly Boote died, a Cub Scout troop camping out on neighbouring Stickley Hill also claim to have been stalked by a predator. ‘We could hear this laboured breathing circling the tents, then it was sniffing around the guy ropes, like it was trying to pick up a scent. We kept quiet, had our penknives ready if it tried to get in, but after a while it must have moved on to another enclosure’. Farmers in the area have regularly complained that they are missing livestock, and a late night taxi driver almost left the road when a feline shape darted across her headlights on a country lane. One reveller, making his way home in the early hours a little worse for wear, insists he was pursued by what he later identified as a black panther. ‘I was taking a shortcut along those footpaths behind The Treelands estate, when I suddenly had this sense that someone was following me. When I turned round these bright, heartless eyes opened in the dark, and I just panicked and ran. It was crazy, I couldn’t remember where I was going, weaving around those alleys, no streetlights. But I knew it was on my heels all the way, getting very close. I think it was about to pounce when at that moment I stumbled out on to the main road. Thank God the night bus was there at the stop and opened its doors for me’.


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