Police responding to reports of a "large apex predator" on the loose in a small town in the UK were surprised when they turned out to be "true".

Officers near Steyning, West Sussex, arrived to find what looked at first glance like a black-furred big cat on a park bench.

Horsham Police said on Twitter early yesterday morning: "Reports of a large apex predator in the Steyning area turned out to be true.

"It may be a stuffed toy, but the attending officers didn't necessarily know that at first."

The local police division - part of Sussex Police - posted a picture of the toy predator in the dark, lit by their vehicle's headlights.

Reported "sightings" of big cats in Britain that turn out to be stuffed toys are not uncommon.

Last year, the RSPCA was called out to a report of a tiger being kept in a cramped cage in Exeter, Devon, but it too turned out to be a soft toy.

RSPCA inspector Marije Zwager said: "They were persistent this is what they'd seen and I wasn't quite sure what to expect but soon realised that it wasn't a tiger at all, it was just a soft toy.

"He's called Tiddles the Tiger and shares his home with two male neutered rabbits called Horace and Boris, who have a fantastic home filled with all kinds of enrichment and entertainment to keep them happy and healthy."