In March 2005 Anthony Holder claimed to have been attacked and scratched by the Beast when he was putting his cat outside. Both he and a police officer said they saw a 'labrador-sized animal.'
In December 2009 a man claimed to have been chased by the Beast through Dulwich Wood while he was out for a late-night run. He said it looked like a 'brown cheetah.'
I've never spotted the Beast myself, but I've been fascinated by the idea of it since I was a kid. One of my closest friends, who is not prone to wild leaps of the imagination, believes he might have seen it over a decade ago now. He heard a noise outside his window late at night and looked out to see something too large to be a house cat or a fox run across his line of sight. He still doesn't know what else it could have been.
My strongest memory - which I can't be sure wasn't a dream - comes from when it was sighted in the allotments immediately behind my house. The police came out in a helicopter and swept a searchlight over the area, illuminating everything in a ghostly light. I wanted so badly to spot something, and every twisted shadow was a panther in my imagination, but nothing was found and everyone forgot.
Except for me. The idea that there is something out there, powerful and alien, so close to us but utterly unknowable, has always sent a shiver down my spine. The image of the helicopter, dream or not, is what gave me the idea for Panther, and it plays a crucial role in the book, not just visually but thematically as well.
A light, shining through the darkness, searching for something that cannot be found. That is what Panther is really about.