NURSERY school staff have spoken of their disgust after thugs stole a rabbit much loved by children and hanged it from a tree.

The Hartlepool children, all younger than five, have not been told their rabbit, Sooty, is dead, but are still distressed that the lop-eared, Newfoundlandland rabbit is missing.

Sooty was taken from The Cherry Tree Nursery, attached to Manor Residents Association, overnight Monday, April 28 to Tuesday, April 29 and police are appealing for information.

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A shed was broken into and a rabbit was stolen, which the children who use the centre played with. A red children’s tricycle was also taken.

The rabbit, donated by a farmer and his daughter from Wingate, near Sedgefield, was later found hanging from a tree on the Owton Manor Estate, having suffered numerous injuries.

Janet Cain, acting supervisor at the nursery, said: “Some of the children are not really old enough to understand, but the four and five-year-olds are upset. We’ve just told them that Sooty has gone but we haven’t said he’s dead.

“The parents and everyone across the whole community is absolutely disgusted. No-one can believe it, it’s so horrible.”

Ms Cain explained that the rabbit was moved to the shed every night.

She said: “When we opened up at 7.30 in the morning we noticed the shed was broken into.

"I said, ‘the rabbit, the rabbit,’ straight away. The cage was all open and the rabbit was gone. The police told us what happened, and we were just all horrified.

“We’ve had some problems with some young boys hanging around on bikes. We’ve had some vandalism and things stolen but, truthfully, we don’t know if it’s them.

“We’re going to look at security before we think about getting another one.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact PC Anthony Wallace on the non-emergency 101 number or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111.