SO, there’s a panther-like beast stalking the countryside around Acton Bridge.

Is there? Really?

I’m sure those people who say they’ve seen a mystery big cat in the area truly believe it but in reality, they are just joining a long list of others who have ‘caught a glimpse of these creatures’, would swear under oath the truth of their story but all suffer the same problem – a remarkable lack of evidence.

I have to confess, I’m no expert in the feeding habits of big cats but I would suggest the dietary requirements of a panther would stretch to a little more than the one dog that’s gone missing in Acton Bridge.

Surely sheep or cattle would provide a much more nutritious and well-balanced meal for a panther, rather than dog. Unless, of course, the panther is from a little-known South Korean breed.

I’m more inclined to throw my lot in with RSPCA inspector Nadine Pengilly, who told the Guardian: “If there was a panther it would kill all the cows and livestock down there.

“You do get some larger cats that could’ve been mistaken for a panther or big cat.

“I can’t for one minute believe that there’s a panther. I think it was probably just a big cat as otherwise there’d be a lot more damage.”

But just for one moment, let’s assume there is a big cat on the loose in Acton Bridge.

The first thought that crosses my mind is where did it come from.

I don’t recall Chester Zoo issuing an alert about it carelessly losing one of its big cats.

And I would have thought that if it had been in a private collection, if such a thing exists, the owner may possibly have thought a missing panther would have been worth mentioning to the authorities.

I don’t want to be a killjoy or a naysayer but the reality is The Beast of Acton Bridge simply does not exist, or if it does, it’s a big domestic cat enlarged in size by imagination and wishful thinking.

You only have to think back to the summer of 2012 to see a classic example of this phenomenon.

In the world of newspapers, the summer months are known as the ‘silly season’ and for good reason.

Politics, local and national, closes down for the summer and ‘hard news’ becomes harder to find. That’s when ‘softer’ silly stories get far more column inches than they deserve.

Anyone remember the Lion of Essex?

Apparently the king of the jungle was stalking the leafy lanes and woodland of St Osyth, near Clacton.

So convinced and persuasive were the witnesses to this big-cat sighting that police scrambled helicopters to search the area.

Videos shot on mobile phones appeared, proving the lion was on the loose, warnings were issued and experts were called in.

Facebook and Twitter posts added to the frenzy as holidaymakers in the area were warned not to take any risks.

The £25,000 operation involved more than 30 officers, specialist marksmen, and two police helicopters equipped with heat-seeking cameras. But no trace of a big cat was found.

And depending on which report you care to believe, the culprit was either a 12-year-old ginger tomcat called Tom or a Maine Coon cat called Teddy Bear.

Maine Coons, or American Longhairs, are much larger than the average cat – but not as big as a lion.

Just goes to show what an over-active imagination, a bit of hysteria and a slow news day can do.

But perhaps the best known and most persistent alien big-cat story is the Beast of Bodmin Moor.

This story has, potentially some credence and viability. The vast area of Bodmin Moor would be large enough for a panther-like creature to stay away from public gaze and provide a big enough food supply.

The carcasses of mauled animals did seem to provide sufficient evidence to support the claim but it does fall down on one point. The stories have been around for so long there would have had to have been not one, but a number of such beasts.

This would have meant the need for large numbers to maintain a breeding population but climate and food supply issues would have made survival unlikely.

Nevertheless, the stories persisted and in 1995, The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food conducted an official investigation. The study found that there was 'no verifiable evidence' of exotic felines loose in Britain.

Even so, the small boy that lurks somewhere deep in my soul does, somehow, hope that perhaps there is a Beast of Acton Bridge after all.

But I think I’m going to be disappointed.