A large, panther-like cat was caught on camera as it ate prey in Murhill Woods, Wiltshire. (Herbert Smith)
A large, panther-like cat was caught on camera as it ate prey in Murhill Woods, Wiltshire (Herbert Smith) Herbert Smith

A terrified couple claim to have seen the so-called Beast of Trowbridge killing and eating rabbits in a field.

Herbert Smith said he noticed a large, black panther-like animal while walking with his wife Doreen in Murhill Woods, Wiltshire.

"Our first impression was sheer astonishment, we really could not believe our eyes at what we were seeing.

"The animal was eating what we believe it had just caught. There was a lot of rabbits about so I expect it was having breakfast.

"I was about 20ft away from it whilst it was eating, looked up at me for a couple of seconds then resumed eating.

"If it wasn't for my wife tugging at my arm to get me out of there, I would have stayed observing this magnificent animal."

In 2009 shop worker Allyson Jones told how she came face to face with the same legendary big cat.

The Beast of Trowbridge could be an escaped panther. (www.bigcat.com)
The Beast of Trowbridge could be an escaped panther (www.bigcat.com)

The beauty specialist was driving between Bradford on Avon and Holt when she saw the beast in the path of her car.

She said: "I thought it was going to eat me. It had just jumped out of a hedge and stood in the path of my car staring at me."

Another sighting was in 2010. Rita Fielding said: "I looked over and saw a massive black cat in some dead grass by the bank.

"What struck me is that it was so very, very black and was much bigger than a dog."

The large cats are usually thought to be lynxes, or black cats such as pumas and panthers.

One of the most common theories for the presence alleged "wild alien cats" is that they are the descendants of animals released from captivity when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 came into force, which made it illegal to keep untamed cats.

Darren Naish, from the University of Southampton, said: "There have been enough sightings of exotic big cats which substantially pre-date 1976 to cast doubt on the idea that one piece of legislation made in 1976 explains all releases of these animals in the UK.

"It seems more likely that escapes and releases have occurred throughout history, and that this continual presence of aliens explains the 'British big cat' phenomenon."