THE bizarre beheading of 14 chickens in Penge could have been the work of a cult that carries out religious sacrifices, according to an expert.
As reported in News Shopper last week, the heads of the hens had all been cleanly severed and taken from the coop at the devastated owner Philip Fairbrother's home in Avington Grove.
The 61-year-old has also revealed he saw no blood when he found his pets' bodies, leading to speculation the blood was drained, a common element to such sacrifices.
To try and find out more, News Shopper tracked down Rick Ross, an expert from the Rick Ross Institute in New Jersey, America, which studies destructive cults and controversial movements.
After seeing Mr Fairbrother's story, Mr Ross said: "It is possible that this is somehow connected to the practice of Santeria or another syncretic religion with African roots.
"Animals have been used for ritual sacrifice as a part of Santeria, which has reportedly included chickens.
"Santeria is a composite or syncretic religion associated with Cuba and the Caribbean that blends various aspects of Catholicism with African religion, such as Voodoo and Palo Mayombe.
"It is possible that the chickens were somehow part of a religious rite or ritual.
"Chickens are relatively inexpensive and plentiful. And it is not necessarily illegal to slaughter a chicken in many jurisdictions."
Mr Fairbrother admits the chances of it being some sort of ritual cannot be ruled out and that neighbours have been saying the same thing.
The hospital porter said: "A lot of people are saying (it could be a ritual sacrifice). I do think it's a possibility. The fact the heads weren't left is really weird.
"There are no blood stains anywhere. There's no blood on the paving stones. If an animal goes in it's carnage, there are feathers everywhere. You normally see blood.
"It's all supposition and I could never prove it but it indicates that the blood was drained.
"I do think it's possible it was a ritual or cult thing.
"Why would a human just take the heads?"
Meanwhile the charity PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) warned that animal abusers such as the one in Penge often go on to make humans their next victims.
A spokesman said: "A history of cruelty to animals shows up on the records of violent criminals Raoul Moat and Steven Barker; child-killers Mary Bell, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables and serial murderers Ian Huntley, Fred West and Ian Brady - and the list goes on and on.
"Anyone capable of deliberately inflicting such suffering on defenceless animals demonstrates a deeply disturbed psychological state. It is a matter of urgency that the person or people responsible for these barbarous acts be found."
What is Santeria?
Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that grew out of the slave trade in Cuba.
Followers worship spirits called orishas, which they believe will help them in life if they carry out rituals, such as animal sacrifice.
According to a report by the Miami-Dade County Florida Police Department, blood is a common offering.
It says hens are also used in "rubbing rituals" where the practitioner is "cleansed" by the evil passing from the victim to the animal.
Similar chicken incidents
December 2011 - Seven chickens beheaded in Warlingham, Surrey. Owner Marc Lamont described the circumstances as "exactly" like those of Mr Fairbrother's chickens.
May 2011 - Thirteen chickens beheaded at an allotment in Derbyshire. The bodies were stolen, but the heads were left behind. The allotment owner said the blood had been drained from the birds.
April 2011 - Eighteen beheaded chickens killed overnight and placed on a street in Long Island, New York.
September 2010 - Nine chickens beheaded at an allotment in Droylsden, Manchester. Their owner Pat Ryan, had also suffered a stroke and said the chickens "kept him going".
May 2010 - Twenty-six chickens had their heads ripped off in Alaska. The headless bodies were arranged in a 12 to 15ft "lollipop" pattern. There was no sign of the heads.
May 2009 - Police in Keansburg, New Jersey, link two beheaded chickens found on a beach to a Santeria "cleansing ritual".