Severed cat head found in children’s playground reignites ‘UK Animal Killer’ fears - 5 years after probe ended
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A severed cat’s head found in a London children’s playground could be the work of the infamous “UK Animal Killer” - five years after the police investigation was closed. The dismembered feline head was discovered placed carefully at the bottom of a popular kid’s climbing frame in Hackney last week (April 24).
This deliberate act of putting the severed limbs, and especially the head, of slaughtered animals on “display” is a key calling card of the notorious killer, campaigners said. A three-year probe by the Met Police into the deaths of hundreds of animals - mostly pet cats - began in 2015, dubbed Operation Takahe.
A Royal Veterinary College expert carried out 22 post mortems on the alleged victims and found the animals were killed by blunt force trauma, then mutilated with either knives or gardening shears. But the investigation was shelved in 2018 when experts then concluded there was no human involvement as the animals were likely run over by vehicles and chewed by scavenging foxes.
Five years since the probe was mothballed, campaigners who began the initial investigation and collected hundreds of corpses for examination since 2014 believe the killings are still going on around the capital and the South East. Tony Jenkins, who runs animal rescue charity South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL) in south London, said there could have been more than 300 cases since the probe was officially dropped.
He believes the discovery in Hackney last week bears all the hallmarks of the attacker who was initially dubbed the “Croydon Cat Killer” when the deaths first emerged. The 58-year-old said he has seen similar incidents where severed cat and fox heads have been left near children’s playgrounds, gardens and trampolines - some in just the last few weeks.
Mr Jenkins said: "I had a call about a cat in Beckenham with no head about two weeks ago and one in New Addington. The family cat was found beheaded round the back near the garages.
“I warned the family, because they had young children, that in most cases body parts get returned a few days or weeks later. And sure enough, the next day the head turned up where the body was found the previous day.
"She was horrified at the thought the head might come back and as it came back, it couldn’t be a fox. Why would a fox take just the head and tail to eat?
"That’s quite common, we’ve had a lot of other heads and headless bodies found near kids’ playground or near a park where kids play. We also get a lot left in school grounds, usually primary or infant schools.
"It’s a double whammy because it horrifies the children and it horrifies the parents because they’re worried about the impact of seeing the body will have on the children." Mr Jenkins also has another case a few years ago where a severed cat head was found by a woman who was taking her granddaughter to a playground.
He also found cases of decapitated foxes discovered in gardens next to trampolines in Kentish Town, north London, and Merstham, Surrey. But there could be many more cases that go unreported, Mr Jenkins said.
He added: "We’ve seen a lot of headless bodies or body parts of cats and foxes found in gardens on display in trampolines, probably because they’re tall so it’s obvious that kids live there so it’ll definitely be seen by children. We just have no idea how many times a body has been left on display, but not reported because someone disposes of it."
The RSPCA, which was also involved in the investigation five years ago, would not comment on any link between this latest case and the closed probe while the investigation is ongoing. But a spokeswoman confirmed the inspector at the scene in Hackney suspects the killing could be deliberate.
On the findings of Operation Takahe that ruled foxes mauled the roughly 400 dead animals discovered, Mr Jenkins said: "It’s not surprising there’s fox DNA on the bodies because they mark their territory and food by licking, urinating or defecating on it.
"The first thing you look for when a cat is runover is scuffed claws [caused by the tarmac and the force of the impact], and in all the years I’ve been doing this, I can only remember one case where the cat had scuffed claws. The cats we’ve found have been young, elderly, some have lived in cul-de-sacs not near any busy roads.
"If these deaths were all from road accidents then mutilated by foxes there would be cases in Scotland, Ireland, Wales or Europe, for that matter, where they all have cats and busy roads and foxes that can scavenge, but it doesn’t happen."
It is thought the Met Police investigation was launched over fears the killer could move to attacking humans. Mr Jenkins said: "Over the years human deaths didn’t start materialising so the investigation was dropped. [The killer] also didn’t leave any clues so it made it a difficult case to solve.
"But who’s to say there isn’t a serial killer out there and the bodies just haven’t been found yet." The Met Police said in an FOI in 2020 that there were "no signs of human involvement in any of the CCTV and no witnesses who witnessed any human involvement" in the roughly 400 cases examined.