ANIMAL welfare officers have launched an investigation after 19 horses were found in an emaciated condition in a field.

RSPCA officers were forced to put a foal to sleep after it was found collapsed, and removed three other adult horses for veterinary treatment, after being called to a field at Coatham Mundeville, near Darlington, on Thursday.

The animal charity has taken possession of all 19 animals and was yesterday continuing its investigations into the animals’ welfare.

A woman who contacted The Northern Echo and asked not to be named said she saw a number of animals being taken away in an emaciated condition by RSPCA staff.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA confirmed the operation and said: “We are removing 19 horses from a field at a property in Coatham Mundeville, Darlington, because of concerns for their welfare.

“We were called to the scene on Thursday night.

“A foal, which was collapsed, has been put to sleep by a vet and a further three horses have been removed for treatment.

“The animals have been taken into possession by police on veterinary advice and placed in RSPCA care.”

An RSPCA inspector on his way to the scene confirmed that investigations were focused on a remote field out of public view.

A spokesman for Durham Police said officers were aware of the matter, but had not made arrests.

He said: “The RSPCA contacted us at 7.20pm on Thursday. They needed authorisation to destroy the foal, which we gave.”

The North-East has the worst record for cases of animal abandonment and cruelty in the UK, according to figures from the animal charity.