RAIDS on people suspected of taking part in illegal hunting have resulted in the seizure of seven dogs and two ferrets.

Four properties in the Stockton area were targeted by the RSPCA and Cleveland Police during a co-ordinated operation this morning (Wednesday, March 12).

Four men – a 25 year old, a 34 year old, a 27 year old and an 18 year old - were arrested and have been taken to a police station to be interviewed.

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RSPCA chief inspector Mark Gent said: “Where we have evidence that illegal hunting is taking place including the setting of dogs on wildlife like hares, rabbits, foxes and deer, we will investigate.

“The five lurchers, two terriers and two ferrets that have been seized this morning are now being checked over by vets.

“Hunting paraphernalia and mobile phones have also been seized which will now be interrogated.”

The joint, intelligence-led operation called ‘Operation Belfast’ involved 13 RSPCA officers and 15 police officers.

The dogs and ferrets will remain in RSPCA care until they’re either signed over or the investigation is concluded.

Inspector Mick Brown, the Cleveland Police lead, said: “We were delighted to work again with the RSPCA on this enquiry; I think any right thinking person would support our teams in trying to prevent the unnecessary and horrific suffering of any animal.

“It is important for our communities that we make a stand against those who perpetrate this sort of offence and who seem to enjoy being involved in it.

“We are committed to this partnership continuing and I have been impressed by the care, dedication and professionalism of the teams involved. This operation and others like it will continue when required.”

Anyone with any information about animal suffering should call the RSPCA cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.