A panther-like creature dubbed the Beast of Bevendean has been spotted in woods near Brighton.

A series of reports describe a large black cat attacking or frightening dogs in the area.

Police have been alerted and the British Big Cats Society is investigating.

Fears over missing cats were also raised at a meeting of the Action for Bevendean Communities group.

Warnings have now been issued to walkers in the woods with their pets.

According to reports, the animal is black and larger than a dog.

A number of similar sightings have been made across the UK and experts believe there are a number of big cats in the wild.

Residents in Bevendean compared sightings of the creature at a meeting in the Holy Nativity Church hall in Norwich Drive, Bevendean.

One said his dog was scratched by the animal last week.

Others said there had been an increase in the remains of rabbits and pheasants since the sightings were first reported two months ago.

Councillor Maria Caulfield, who represents Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, said: "The Beast of Bevendean puma has suddenly appeared in the woods and is allegedly attacking local dogs and cats.

"The main area people have said they've seen it is right at the back of Bevendean towards the racecourse, which is a popular place for people to walk their dogs.

"At the meeting, we just told people to let the police know if they see it, as if there is a large cat out there it could be dangerous.

"I think a few animal owners are worried about some cats going missing and a few dog walkers have said their dogs have been frightened by it.

"It is quite a large wooded area so it would be easy for something to be hiding there.

Fellow councillor Mo Marsh said: "When one person mentioned it, the others began to nod their heads and said they had also seen it.

"They discussed whether it was a puma or panther but decided it wasn't a domestic cat."

Resident Stewart Codall, 43, said: "I saw the animal from a distance. At first I thought it was another dog due to its size. It was walking between two bushes and it was about three or four times the size of a normal cat."

Danny Bamping, of The British Big Cats Society, said: "It could be a panther.

"They could attack domestic cats and dogs but are more likely to feed off small animals like rabbits or pheasants."

Have you seen the Beast of Bevendean? Call the newsdesk on 01273 544519 or email us at news@theargus.co.uk