A POLICE probe has been launched after complaints were made about a hunt illegally chasing a wild hare.

Officers are looking into claims a pack of hounds followed by around 20 hunters on horseback were chasing the animal across fields between Barnoldswick and West Marton on Saturday afternoon.

The hunters, dressed in red blazers, black jodhpurs and black safety helmets, were spotted by a number of animal lovers who said they were deeply shocked at what happened.

Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt master Tom Bannister said they had been in the area at the time but no hare had been discovered.

In 2005, the government passed the Hunting Act banning the hunting of foxes, hares, minks and deer with dogs.

Anyone found guilty of illegal hunting could face a fine of up to £5,000. However, hunts can still follow a scent while out riding, which is commonly known as a drag hunt.

Carole Mitchell, 51, of Ollet Hall Road, Darwen, was visiting her three pet sheep in Stock Road, near Barnoldswick when she saw the hunt.

She said: “It was absolutely awful. I locked myself in the car because I just couldn’t bear it.

“It is so shocking to watch. There was this horrific screaming and I couldn’t tell if it was the dogs or the hare.”

Fellow witness Michael Martin, 62, from Barnoldswick, said: “That poor hare must have been terrified. "I could see it running desperately for its life.

Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt confirmed it conducted a hunt with 20 people on horseback and 20 on foot between Barnoldswick and West Marton on Saturday between 11am and 2.30pm.

Mr Bannister said: “We were completely within the law.

“The law demands that even if the hounds were to find a hare we would have to pull them off, but we did not find a hare on Saturday.”