Pet-lovers Stewart Montgomery and his girlfriend Agathe Altwegg feel sickened every time they see the distressing images captured on their neighbour’s CCTV camera.
It breaks their hearts to watch their playful nine-month-old cat Hendrix run to a deceptively friendly man who beckons to the animal as he walks down the alley outside the Brighton flat in East Sussex where they used to live.
They can just imagine their affectionate, trusting pet purring loudly as the passerby strokes his black fur, before the cat rolls onto his back to have his tummy tickled.
Beloved pet: Claire Taylor with her cat Merlin who she believes was killed by Steve Bouquet
CCTV footage that caught Steve Bouquet. Without sleuthing, he could still be on the loose
Then, in a matter of seconds, the seemingly innocent scene playing out in front of them turns to horror.
The bald, middle-aged man reaches into his rucksack, raises his hand and, though they can’t make out the knife, makes a stabbing movement towards Hendrix’s belly.
As the fatally injured kitten leaps up and flees, the man casually rearranges his bag and walks away as if nothing has happened.
‘It’s just horrible,’ says Mr Montgomery, 34, adding ‘we’ve wept over it, because it’s such a cold-blooded attack on a defenceless animal, barely nine months old.
‘This wasn’t some maniac spontaneously lashing out at a cat running around, it was a deliberate, malicious act of violence.’
What this couple were witnessing was the notorious ‘Brighton Cat Killer’ in action. Here was the man who’d struck fear into the hearts of the city’s pet-owners for eight months and baffled police.
It was May 2019 when they first saw this disturbing footage, but this week millions more were appalled by it when this crucial piece of evidence was released as the Brighton Cat Killer was finally brought to justice.
And for the first time we can reveal the full story of the role Mr Montgomery and his neighbour Alan Levy — whose family cat Hannah was one of the first of the 16 proven victims — played in helping the police catch him.
Without their sleuthing, he could still be on the loose.
Former security guard and Royal Navy seaman Steve Bouquet, 54, was this week found guilty of the slaying campaign which left nine much-loved pets dead, a further seven injured, and their distraught owners facing vets’ bills running, in some cases, to thousands of pounds.
Bouquet, who denied all the charges, was not in Chichester Crown Court to hear the jury’s guilty verdict, having failed to attend his own trial.
He was found guilty of criminal damage in relation to his attacks, because in law pets are treated as the property of owners.
As well as the CCTV evidence, the court heard how mobile phone data had placed him near the roads where the attacks took place and police had found a knife at his home with cat DNA on it. Photographs of cats, including one dead animal, were also found on his mobile.
His motivation for the attacks remains a mystery.
His Honour Judge Jeremy Gold QC said of the ‘very unpleasant’ attacks: ‘The thought of having a knife plunged into their beloved pet is a serious matter. There will be consequences.’
Bouquet, who had absconded whilst on bail, was apprehended last Monday night after being seen drinking and behaving oddly in a park. He was due to be arrested after doctors had finished assessing his physical and mental state, and is expected to be jailed. A provisional date for sentencing has been set for July 12.
‘Without the CCTV, we wouldn’t have known who it was,’ says Mr Montgomery. ‘The police have done an amazing job bringing him to justice, I can’t fault them, but for eight months they had absolutely no idea who he was.
‘It’s horrible to think that he could still be out there bringing misery to other pet owners, so I’m relieved our evidence helped catch him.
‘It’s so upsetting and I don’t really know what to think about him, but I hope he goes to prison. I can’t believe a man capable of doing this isn’t dangerous.’
Mr Montgomery, who owns a scooter shop, and his French graphic designer girlfriend Miss Altwegg, 33, fell in love with eight-week-old kitten Hendrix in the autumn of 2018, at around the time Bouquet began his knife attacks on the city’s cats — usually carried out at night.
So successful was he at evading capture, he was described in some news reports as almost ‘invisible’.
One of his first known victims was a handsome rescue cat called Alistair, who’d lived with his brother, Duncan, for nine years with owners Stewart Cruse, 73, and his partner of 35 years Philip Noble, 64.
The couple were on holiday in Key West, Florida, in the U.S. when their cat sitter urgently emailed to tell them he’d opened the front door to find Alistair lying on the mat, bleeding with a wound to his neck. The cat sitter had rushed him to the vet, but Mr Cruse and Mr Noble needed to call immediately to give permission to operate.
‘It was all very traumatic and stressful because Alistair and Duncan are our pride and joy,’ Mr Noble told the Mail. ‘Alistair in particular is a very docile, friendly cat who liked to sit on the fence waiting for passers-by to stroke him.
‘I didn’t know what to think. At that stage, all we knew is that he had a deep wound to his neck and it was all very stressful. We thought maybe he’d injured himself on a long nail, or a shard of glass.’
The £2,421 vet’s bill to save Alistair’s life was covered by their pet insurance, but they would have happily paid it themselves to prevent the loss of their adored cat.
‘We were very lucky that Alistair survived, lucky that our cat sitter found him and took him to the vet so quickly, but we only realised he’d been deliberately stabbed when another one of our neighbour’s cats was later stabbed and died. Then another person around the corner’s cat was killed and the police started to link the attacks.
‘We had no idea who could have done this, other than it was someone who had a vendetta against cats, so we were terribly relieved when he was finally caught.
‘This definitely deserves a custodial sentence. If he can do this to cats, what’s the next stage?’
The deaths of Bouquet’s fatally wounded feline victims — Hendrix, Tommy, Alan, Nancy, Gizmo, Kyo, Ollie, Cosmo and Hannah — brought untold misery to their owners, as did the injuries suffered by Alistair, Wheatley, Rigby, Samson, Jasper, Maggie and Gideon, who survived.
The court heard harrowing witness statements and evidence from owners left distraught by the sight of their adored pets either dead, dying or in distress, suffering from horrific wounds.
Many other owners believe their cats were killed by Bouquet, who is suspected of more than 30 attacks, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with them all.
Bouquet, pictured, who had absconded whilst on bail, was apprehended last Monday night after being seen drinking and behaving oddly in a park
Singer-songwriter Claire Taylor, 38, told the Mail her daughter India is still scarred by the discovery of their mutilated cat Merlin on their doorstep at 7.15am on November 5, 2018.
‘My daughter was only seven when she heard Merlin making awful howling noises outside her bedroom window and went out to find him bleeding, dying from horrific wounds,’ says Ms Taylor, who later discovered Bouquet lived just two minutes from their home.
‘She still thinks about it now, she was so traumatised. Some of these cats weren’t killed by a single knife wound but were practically disembowelled, so it was a huge relief when Bouquet was finally caught.’
Even though Ms Taylor was disappointed to be told by police there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Bouquet with Merlin’s death, another proven victim who lived nearby made sure his ordeal was included in her own victim impact statement.
Fourteen-month-old cat Hannah — last seen by owner Mr Levy lazing in a neighbour’s palm tree as he left for work — was one of Bouquet’s first fatalities in October 2018. His last victim was in June 2019.
The court heard that 30 minutes after leaving his home, Mr Levy received a call from his partner, telling him their beloved pet had been injured. He raced home and they rushed Hannah to the vet, but she could not be saved.
She died from blood loss from a deep cut to her leg, which had severed the femoral artery. Mr Levy later installed a CCTV camera, and it would be Bouquet’s undoing when he returned and attacked neighbour Mr Montgomery’s cat Hendrix eight months later.
Mr Montgomery, then working as a manager for a delivery company, was asleep when he was woken by his distraught girlfriend.
‘Agathe was getting ready to go out when Hendrix came flying through the cat flap and she found him in the kitchen making a horrible growling noise, clearly in distress,’ he says.
‘Then, when she tried to pick him, she saw all this blood. So we rushed him off to the vet as quickly as we could. We were shocked when she told us he’d been stabbed and it wasn’t the first they’d seen. She said they were going to operate, but warned us that he was very badly injured.’
The couple left Hendrix at the vet surgery not knowing if he’d pull through. Mr Montgomery was so incensed that someone might have deliberately wanted him dead, he turned detective.
‘When we got home, I noticed blood on the gate, on the front door and I thought “right, let’s have a look and see what’s actually happened here” and I followed the trail of blood, taking pictures to give to the police.
‘I knew my neighbour had installed a CCTV camera after their cat was killed, but when I got the end of the trail of blood, I looked round and couldn’t see the camera so I thought it wouldn’t have captured anything, but then I got down on the floor to Hendrix’s level and from down there you could see the camera quite clearly.
‘At that moment I knew “whoever did this, the camera will have caught it”, so I dropped a note through my neighbour’s letterbox and they invited me round that evening to view the footage.
‘I immediately phoned the police to let them know what had happened and, before we’d even seen it, told them we’d probably have CCTV footage, and they were brilliant. They took it really seriously, and there was none of that “oh it’s only a cat” business.
‘I didn’t know what the CCTV would show us, but what we saw was so upsetting and horrible I will never forget it.
‘What’s so disturbing about that footage is that he’s not slashing at a cat running around, Hendrix is on his back thinking he’s being loved . . . completely trusting.
‘That really got to us. Hendrix was so young and hadn’t really had a life. You expect, at the back of your mind, that cats sometimes get hit by cars and that sort of thing, but to know that wasn’t what happened, that was the really horrible part about it.’
Mr Montgomery and his girlfriend had no pet insurance, but didn’t think twice about paying £1,662 to try and save their cat’s life. The next morning, however, the vet called with the devastating news that Hendrix had died during the night.
‘We went to the vets to see his little body and say our goodbyes,’ says Mr Montgomery, adding ‘and that was the last we saw of Hendrix. His body was then taken by police for evidence. We couldn’t even take him home and bury him.’
While police now had CCTV images of the Brighton cat killer, his identity was still unknown, and it would be Mr Levy who would go on to play a key role in his subsequent arrest.
‘Our neighbour went through his footage and realised that after Hendrix had been attacked, this chap had been down here again, the very next day,’ says Mr Montgomery.
‘He then scrolled back and realised this chap had been up and down the alley before, so it seemed very much like it was a route to his work, so he watched the monitors at around the time this man usually walked down the alleyway and saw him.
‘He called the number of the detective investigating the case, who just so happened to be at Brighton station, which is just three blocks away. They nabbed him and found a knife in his bag.’
During his police interview, Bouquet insisted ‘I’ve always been friendly. I mean, I’m no threat to animals.
‘They come up to me and I give them a stroke and send them on their way. I’ve no issues with cats or dogs.’
He told the police that all he knew about the cat killings was what he had read in the newspapers and online, but could not explain why there was a picture of a dead cat on his phone.
With the weight of evidence against him, however, the jury did not believe Bouquet, who was found guilty of 16 offences of criminal damage and possession of a Leatherman multi-tool.
Today, Mr Montgomery and his girlfriend have a new cat called Cleo, but they will never forget Hendrix.
‘It really affected us for months and even to this day you think “I can’t believe this has happened”,’ he says. Moreover, the couple were so distressed by the attack that they decided to move.
‘It’s very disturbing to think that someone could get some kind of weird pleasure from killing a pet, knowing how distraught it will leave the owners.
‘I’m just pleased he was caught and no one else will have to suffer. If my neighbour hadn’t had that CCTV, if I hadn’t asked to see it, we wouldn’t have found him and who knows how many more he could have killed.’