PET owners are warned to be on their guard against a group of suspected catnappers who could be stealing the animals for their fur.

Suspicions were first raised after three cats were reported missing in the Feniscowles area of Blackburn.

All disappeared between 5.30pm-9.30pm.

Eunice Faulkner, owner of the Blackburn Cat Rescue, in Pleckgate Road, also runs a lost and found pet register and said she was alarmed at the number of missing cats people were reporting.

She said: "We have had a lot of missing cats reported this year but there were 12 reported in February. I have rehomed a lot of these cats and it's really sad to see.

"Tabbys are well known on the black market for their fur. I have seen cases where they have been starved before being skinned. Sometimes they are even used for dog baiting.

"It seems strange that all the cats that have been reported missing are all described as friendly cats that would go to anyone and appear to have gone in the early evening when it's starting to get dark.

"There are a lot of heartbroken people out there, especially elderly people who are finding it difficult to cope without their pets. One lady just put her cat out on the garden and when she went to call it in ten minutes later it had vanished and hasn't been seen since."

"My message to pet owners would be to keep your cats inside and if you do let them out make sure you go out with them."

Eunice said other cats that had been reported missing included an eight-month-old tabby and white kitten and a black and white adult cat in the Roe Lee area and a black and white long haired cat in the Shear Brow area.

Sergeant Peter Crane said the police were aware of a series of missing cats in the area and said: "We were called to a house in Blackburn after the family showed concern their cat had mysteriously gone missing. As far as we are aware we have been told by the Blackburn Cat Rescue that another five cats have also gone missing from within the same area."