SHAMELESS pleasure seekers indulging in public sex at a local beauty spot are being warned they could face prosecution.

Causey Arch, near Stanley, has become a magnet for 'dogging' - the act where couples get their kicks out of inviting strangers to watch and sometimes join in with them having sex.

Police said the picnic site next to the historic rail bridge has become the main meeting place for 'doggers' from the northern end of County Durham, with others travelling from Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

Officers have warned that they will be cracking down on the illegal gatherings, which are organised over the internet.

PC David Eame of Stanley police said: "These people might not feel that they are breaking the law, because it is heterosexual activity.

"But any sexual acts committed in the public arena are subject to criminal law and will be dealt with."

Offenders risk being charged with gross indecency or conspiracy to commit gross indecency.

A spokesman for Durham County Council, which looks after the Causey Arch site, said: "We very much regret that a popular countryside facility like Causey Arch should be misused in any way.

"We welcome the assistance of the police in seeking to tackle the problem and in helping make sure that our countryside parks and picnic areas remain safe and pleasant facilities for the public to use. However, while we know that this sort of activity can and does take place at facilities like Causey Arch, traffic counters on site suggest the level after-hours misuse is limited."

The phrase dogging originated from explanations often given to police from those who are watching on, who say they are 'just walking the dog.'

The activity is growing in popularity, with web sites detailing a dozen favoured spots in County Durham, plus more in Cleveland and the Sunderland area.

Acting Chief Insp Catherine Boyd of Durham Police said: "This is a disgusting act, at a site used by walkers and families with children. We are taking action to combat it."