ELTHAM residents fear a big cat is on the loose after foxes were found ripped to shreds.

Laura Downes, 47, of Westmount Road, Eltham, discovered a dead fox in her back garden and thought there was nothing sinister involved.

But when she looked out an hour later nothing was left except clumps of fur, scattered around the garden.

The following day, the body of another dead fox appeared in her back garden, this time with its head missing and its body covered with maggots.

Mrs Downes said: "It had been dead for several days and there was a hole as big as my fist in its neck, squirming with maggots."

The mum-of-two says the brick-built wall around her garden is 5ft high and has no holes animals could squeeze through.

She believes only a very big animal would be capable of leaping over the fence.

Mrs Downes called in animal expert Eddie Williams of Willow Wildlife, an animal ambulance service based in Chislehurst.

He said: "It was horrendous.

"Whatever did that to the first fox did a good job.

"I've never seen anything like it. I was scared."

Although sceptical over the existence of big cats, Mr Williams and an expert from the Fox Project are unable to explain what ripped up the first fox.

Mrs Downes, a reporter for a nursing journal, said: "It was very spooky to think something was in our garden and we don't know what it is.

"There was a lot of poking about at the bottom of the garden near the shed. It's going to be a while before the grass is cut."

There have been frequent sightings of a panther-like cat in south east London, with one reported to have attacked a man near the Lawrie Park area of Sydenham on March 21.

Mrs Downes lives near Oxleas Wood, where a rash of Beast of Bexley sightings were reported by News Shopper two years ago.

Danny Bamping, of the British Big Cat Society, said: "I've never heard of anything like this but it sounds like it could be a big cat."