A GANG of youths whose dogs have killed 12 sheep on a disused farm are being hunted by police and animal welfare officers.
Dog walkers and a local councillor have found the sheep mauled to death in fields in Colne.
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A joint investigation is under way between police, RSPCA and Lancashire County Council's trading standards as attacks have increased.
Youths with hunting dogs have been spotted on land at Hubb House Farm, Knotts Lane, which was closed down last year after hygiene officials found that milk pasteurising equipment was covered in slurry.
A dog walker, who did not wish to be named, said: “I live close by and I see them coming up in the evenings with their lurchers and Patterdales.
“They aren’t just hunting rabbits, they’re killing the sheep and then the corpses are just left there.
“I’m coming across new dead sheep twice a week, easily.
“At the weekend, I thought I would walk my dog in the fields above Knotts Lane but as soon as I entered the field the stench of death hit me.
“I barely had to walk 50 meters before I found the rotting corpses of another three sheep.
“The weekend before that, I’d seen seven dead sheep in the field and one badly injured. It’s unbeliavable.”
Coun Dorothy Lord described the site as ‘gruesome’.
She said: “I visited myself at the request of a resident I saw mauled sheep that were obviously in distress and I saw one that was lying there dead with it’s back ripped open. One had it’s fleece trailing behind it. You could clearly see they’d been attacked.
“It was a shocking and very upsetting experience.”
Hubb House Farm is no longer a working farm after an emergency closure order was served in February last year.
Before that, farmer John Allison had been taken to court over concerns of the welfare of his animals and the state of his dairy.
The building and it’s surroundings have gradually fallen into disrepair.
It is unclear whether the sheep are left over livestock belonging to Mr Allison or are wandering in from nearby fields.
Pet owners also believe their cats are being targeted by the gang.
Lorette White, of Broken Banks, Colne, said: “I’ve been targeted twice this year. The first incident was the death of my one-year-old male ginger tom cat, Colin.
“He’d gone out as normal but didn't come home one evening. A neighbour knocked at my door in the morning saying that he’d seen dogs with a pale ginger cat and that it was left to die in the field by the snicket.
“I went down to have a look and it was Colin. He had no fur on his back end and his flesh was shredded and exposed.
“A few weeks later, my cats were sitting in my garden and I was inside with the front door shut.
“I heard a commotion and could hear dogs, cats and people’s voices so I jumped up and opened the door.
“I saw six or seven young men with a lurcher and a black Patterdale terrier running out of my garden.
“There was another whippet type dog waiting outside. My cats had run off in all directions and it took me over two hours to get them all back safely.
“The gang ran off laughing and shouting abuse at me.
“My neighbour told me that he’d seen them deliberately throw the Patterdale over my fence into the garden.”
Anthony Holt, from Colne, said his pet cat Jasper was killed by lurchers in Sainsbury’s car park in July.
He said: “They are training their dogs to chase, fight, bite and kill. I can’t understand it. It just doesn’t seem normal to me.”
Andy Robbins, from the RSPCA, said: “We prosecuted a gang of men from Colne last month after they were caught setting their dogs on a cat and a badger.
“This is a real problem in Colne and we are collecting evidence to prosecute again.
“This is animal cruelty and it is a crime and we will do everything in power to ensure that this gang is brought before magistrates.”
PC Nigel Keates, of Lancashire Police, said: “Officers are aware of the issues surrounding the use of hunting dogs and lurchers.
“This has resulted in sheep worrying and deaths of animals and livestock. It is particularly prevalent at the moment in the Colne rural areas.
“The police and other agencies are presently compiling intelligence on the offenders."
Derek Smith, principal officer for animal health at Lancashire County Council Trading Standards, said: "We have received a number of animal health complaints relating to land in the Waterside area of Colne and are currently working with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to investigate.
"We will consider appropriate action once this has been concluded