A puma or panther is on the prowl in Crystal Palace according to a journalist who spotted a big cat there on Saturday.

The beast - dubbed the Palace Puma - was sighted in some woodland by journalist Helen Barrett, 41, who was out for a walk with her family.

"It was black, the size of a labrador, but walking like a cat."

Helen Barrett, 41, who was out for a walk with her family

They were so terrified that they fled from the “wild animal” - described as black and 5ft in length - after it approached them on a pathway between Church Road and Auckland Hill at 3.45pm.

Mrs Barrett said: “It was quite alarming.

"At first we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

"It was black, the size of a labrador, but walking like a cat.

"It had to be feline.”

She thought it must be a puma or panther.

She described how it came out of foliage 50ft from her family, including her children aged two and 10, and disappeared before reappearing out of the woodland and began to approach them.

“We just turned and fled before it could get any closer,” she added.

She said as a journalist she was naturally sceptical of any sighting like this, but she “knew what she saw” and because of the history of confirmed sitings in the area believed another big cat was now in the area.

Four years ago a hunt for a big cat - dubbed the Beast of Sydenham - took place in neighbouring Sydenham Park after a cat “the size of a labrador” attacked a man in his garden in the middle of the night.

Mrs Barrett reported the sighting to police who searched the path and woodland parallel to Fox Hill, but said they could find no trace of a big cat.

No animal welfare organisations have been in touch about the incident nor have there been any warnings issued by zoos about escaped animals, according to a police spokesman.

According to Bromley Council no dangerous wild animals are believed to be kept in the Crystal Palace area, and no licences for residents to keep them have been issued.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said no big cats had ever been found in the area, and often sightings were people confusing foxes and other animals with larger beasts.

But Mrs Barratt said she was convinced by what she saw.

She added: “I would warn people from going into the wood.”

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