Parents' first interview detailing the fox attack on their twin daughters to air on BBC One

The parents of the nine-month-old twin girls savaged by a fox as they lay in their cots have given their first detailed account of the events of that night to BBC Panorama’s Sophie Raworth (tonight at 7pm on BBC One).

Pauline and Nick Koupparis describe how a perfect family weekend was brought to an abrupt end by their daughters’ cries.

The couple tell the programme that it had been a glorious sunny day and they’d spent it together in their local park before going home to a barbecue supper. After putting their daughters to bed in their separate cots, which sit side by side in their bedroom, Pauline, Nick and their four-year old son Max settled down to watch TV. The patio doors into the garden were still open, the leftovers from the barbecue cooling on the kitchen table.

A few minutes before 10pm, Nick heard the sound of one of the twins crying through the baby monitor.

Pauline tells Sophie: “I went into the room and they were both crying. Isabella was head down in her cot. I noticed some blood and I thought maybe she’d had a nosebleed, so I put the night light on and as I put the night light on I saw the fox at the end of Lola’s cot. And then I saw that Lola was covered in blood as well. And I literally just wailed, screamed, I don’t know how to describe it and then I heard Nick running up the stairs.”

Even with both parents in the room, the fox stood its ground.

Pauline says: “I sort of lunged at it and it didn’t even move. And I was just screaming and the girls were crying and Nick lunged a few times and the fox was sort of moving a foot at a time. And I picked up Lola, Nick had picked up Isabella.”

Nick Koupparis adds: “I came out onto the landing. I had Isabella in my arms and the fox was just sat at the top of the stairs as if it was a family pet, or as if nothing had happened. I knew Isabella was bleeding a lot by that stage. I could feel the blood was all seeping through her babygro and I threw whatever came to hand at the fox. It then scarpered down the stairs.”

The fox had entered their home through the open patio doors and walked through the kitchen – straight past the barbecue leftovers – up two flights of stairs and into the room where the children lay sleeping.

After chasing the fox down the stairs, Nick Koupparis ran into the street – still clutching Isabella – and called 999 on his mobile. He tells Sophie how he had to keep saying it was a fox to the emergency services operator, who simply couldn’t believe what they were hearing. An ambulance arrived within four minutes and, as the crew examined the babies, the severity of their injuries became apparent. The bites to Lola’s face had left it swollen and distorted. Her eyelid had been badly torn and there was so much bleeding around her eye, her parents feared for her sight.

With her babygro removed, the full extent of Isabella’s arm injuries were revealed.

Pauline says: “Her arm was open and bits of her flesh were literally, like, just dropping onto Nick’s leg. That’s how I can remember. It’s just… it looked like it had been through a cheese grater.”

The casualty team at the Royal London Children’s Hospital alerted plastic surgeons to the fact that the twins needed urgent treatment.

Consultant reconstructive surgeon Raj Ragoowansi says of Isabella’s injury: “Fox bites, this is probably the second one I’ve seen in my career but actually it was the most severe one I’ve seen as an animal bite. I’ve seen hundreds of dog bites but this is the most severe I’ve seen. I think it is even more dramatic because it is in such a small child. We normally see them in young adults and so on, so to see that degree of bite, that degree of soft tissue disruption in a child that young, it is horrific.”

He adds: “The bite was a very strong bite because as far as the upper arm was concerned the wound was down to the bone and that takes some considerable force to force a laceration through the skin, through the fat, through the muscle and down to bone.”

While undergoing surgery, Isabella experienced respiratory complications and it was decided she needed further specialist treatment. She was transferred to Great Ormond Street’s intensive care unit.

Surgeons had had to clean the babies’ wounds repeatedly. Lola’s eyelid was stitched and her other bites closed with steri-strips. Both girls were given antibiotics on arrival at the Royal London Children’s Hospital and are still undergoing a course of rabies injections.

When Lola was released from hospital, the family’s joy was tempered with fears for Isabella who was still in intensive care at Great Ormond Street and struggling to breathe.

Pauline tells Sophie: “Obviously Lola came home first and it was incredible. But at the same time I was thinking, ‘well I just want them both’ and I was sort of thinking to myself ‘what would I do if there was only one twin that came home and how could I ever deal with that as a mother?'”

In tonight’s BBC One special, Pauline and Nick show reporter Sophie Raworth images of their daughters’ injuries, taken while they were still in hospital. They also describe how, while the ambulance crew was treating their babies, police officers in their home saw a fox again at their patio doors.

Pauline tells Sophie: “They said literally within minutes of being in the house, they’d seen the fox trying to get in the back door like a dog. It was scratching on the door trying to get back into the house… I thought I was going to be sick, because I thought ‘it’s come back again’.”

Despite all that was happening to their family, Nick and Pauline Koupparis were anxious to protect their neighbours’ children.

Pauline tells Sophie: “Our concern in the evening was with the police, ‘you’ve got to tell our neighbours, you’ve got to warn our neighbours’, because so many of our friends, I mean one of my good friends two doors down has got a child the same age as my girls, maybe a month younger. There’s a newborn next door. There are young children everywhere and we were just petrified it would do it to someone else.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, some wildlife experts were expressing doubts about whether a fox was really the culprit. Despite the obvious injuries to their daughters, Nick and Pauline were subjected to accusations that they were lying by strangers over the internet.

Pauline tells Sophie: “I went onto my Facebook, I was obviously looking at my messages and 99% of them were really nice messages. But obviously there were a few in there that were really quite nasty, saying things like ‘I didn’t believe the lady when her baby was taken by the dingos and I don’t believe you with the foxes’. ‘What are you trying to hide?’ ‘A fox couldn’t have done it, you obviously have a family pet’.”

The parents wanted to give a single definitive account of their experience to dispel some of the myths that have already built up around the attack on their daughters. They tell Sophie that at no point have they owned a pet dog or cat since their oldest child was born nearly five years ago; they have never encouraged foxes to visit their garden; and, while they saw them regularly both in their garden and in the neighbourhood, they have never previously worried about them as a potential threat to their family.

Wildlife expert John Bryant was one of those widely quoted immediately after the attack disputing the likelihood of a fox being responsible. He tells Panorama that after hearing details of the children’s injuries and seeing the police officer’s photo of the fox at the patio doors, he’s since changed his mind.

He says: “When I first heard of the incident, everybody I know who’s involved in one way or another with foxes or fox behaviour said it’s not true, it must have been a dog. I am convinced now that it was a fox, a four-month-old fox cub.”

He adds: “I think the Hackney incident will be remembered as a totally unprecedented and freak event, but it may serve as a warning to us that making pets of foxes, feeding foxes, getting them too used to people and certainly going into houses is not a good idea. So maybe we should take the lesson and keep them here, but keep them wild.”

In the two weeks after the attack, six foxes were trapped in the Koupparis family’s garden, removed and humanely destroyed. Acting on police advice, the local authority had called in a pest control specialist. The family were unprepared for the furious response the death of the foxes would provoke.

Pauline Koupparis says: “We had a police guard on the front door 24/7 for about three or four days and a panic alarm installed in the house because there were lots of things on websites and the tyres had been slashed on the side of the street, and they were just concerned that it could potentially be animal activists.”

On Tuesday of this week, Isabella and Lola returned to the Royal London Children’s Hospital. Their parents learned the prognosis for their daughters’ injuries. Both girls are likely to be permanently scarred and Pauline and Nick were told that Isabella – whose left arm and hand were severely injured – will continue to see specialists until her late teens.

Pauline Koupparis is hoping to get back to normal family life for Lola, Isabella and their brother Max as quickly as possible, but admits the experience has changed her: “When the girls are here I don’t open the doors and it’s a bit of a panic every night. ‘Have you locked the door? Are the windows all closed?’ I’m quite frightened of keeping the doors open now.”

Nick Koupparis says: “I think I appreciate it’s a freak occurrence that may happen again but the likelihood of it happening to us again is zero. But it probably is the same feeling people have when they’ve been burgled. They don’t want to go back and see their house has been violated and we feel that our family unit has been violated.”

Pauline adds: “I think it’s definitely made us appreciate what we have and how lucky we’ve been. Our girls are safe, they’ll recover from it.”

Watch The Fox Attack Twins tonight on BBC One at 7pm.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1