THE Beast of Bexley has returned and this time it has left behind a huge paw print.

The large black panther, which has been spotted stalking areas of Bexley over the past three years, made its latest appearance last Thursday.

It was seen in Bexleyheath by astonished care worker Jim Hornby, 48, at his work just off Bexleyheath Broadway.

He said: "It was some time between 11pm and midnight. I was in the utility room at the back of the building and standing next to the open door which leads onto the car park and then onto woods.

"I was chatting with the night superviser when I saw something out of the corner of my eye, moving in the car park.

"I turned and saw the shape of a big black cat, creeping along the ground on its belly by the side of my car, as if it was stalking something."

Mr Hornby, from St James Close, Plumstead, confessed he was so surprised he swore.

He added: "I said to the superviser What the hell was that?' "She had also caught a glimpse of it and she replied I don't know'."

Mr Hornby then dashed out into the car park to try and get another look at the creature but by the time he got there it had gone.

He said: "It was much bigger than an ordinary cat, a fox or even a dog.

"We all spent the rest of the night trying to work out what the superviser and I had seen."

But there was another big surprise waiting.

The care home where Mr Hornby works has a sensory garden which includes an area of sand.

The following morning when the staff went out for another look, they found a perfectly preserved, huge paw print in the sand.

It was nearly 5in across and its depth indicated it was made by something heavy.

Mr Hornby said: "A couple of weeks ago one of the doves went missing from next door. All they found were feathers and lots of blood.

"I am not frightened but I am now really curious. I have never seen anything like it before.

"I couldn't make out any features, just the shape of a cat, nearly as big as a man.

"I shall now be keeping one eye looking out of the window, in case I see it again."

In the past year, the Beast of Bexley, as it has been dubbed, has been seen at the Hillview Cemetery in Welling, around the woodlands at Shooters Hill, Plumstead Common, Danson Park, Barnehurst and Northumberland Heath.

Experts believe big cats may use railway lines and the cover of their embankments to travel long distances.

Danny Bamping, founder of the British Big Cats Society, said: "Looking by the paw print, I am quite convinced this was made by big cat.

"There are no claws visible in the print and cats are the only animals which do not have their claws out when they walk.

"The sighting was particularly strong. Two people saw it and it was in an area where big cats have been seen before. I would say it was highly likely it was a big cat."