A feared serial cat killer who for three years was believed to have mutilated pets across London does not exist, and foxes or other wildlife were probably to blame, police said on Thursday.
Hundreds of suspected incidents were reported to police raising widespread concern that a single figure — dubbed the "M25 Cat Killer" or the "Croydon Cat Killer" after the capital's orbital motorway and the south London town where the mutilations were first recorded — was responsible.
But, police said that after a thorough examination of the evidence and investigation of corpses in six suspected cases, officers had found nothing to indicate human involvement.
"Officers working alongside experts have concluded that hundreds of reported cat mutilations in Croydon and elsewhere were not carried out by a human and are likely to be the result of predation or scavenging by wildlife," London police said.
The police investigation began in November 2015 after reports from Croydon of mutilated cats missing their heads and tails. Many other distraught owners came forward with similar stories and British newspapers speculated that the cat killer might move on from animals to humans.
However, local animal charity, the South Norwood Animal Rescue League (SNARL) carried out 25 post-mortems on suspected victims which indicated the cause of death was blunt force trauma suggesting the cats were most likely run over by a vehicle and the mutilations occurred after death.
Closed circuit TV footage in three cases showed foxes carrying parts of the dead animal, including one which took a cat's head into a school playground in Catford, south London. Further tests on six cases that still appeared suspicious concluded the cats had also been victims of scavenging.
"Such apparent spates of cat mutilations are not unknown in the UK and elsewhere," the police statement said. "Officers were aware of a spate of reported mutilations some 20 years ago which were eventually attributed to predation by wildlife."