POLICE are investigating claims that animals have been trapped in snares by hunters who brag about their exploits.
The inquiry follows calls from the League Against Cruel Sports, which discovered a website promoting snaring that shows hunters, believed to be from the North-East, goading dogs to attack strangled animals.
Snares are a form of trap, and not all forms are illegal in the UK, but are banned across Europe.
The league came across the website during a nationwide investigation and is calling for a national ban.
The league said private investigators uncovered references to Hartlepool, with hunters bragging about catches in the area.
It said people have been promoting sick and immoral activities through online forums, on which people exchange images of snared and butchered wildlife.
Campaigner Cerys Roberts said: “The images are truly shocking.
“These people appear to be getting pleasure from slowly killing animals.
“The hunt forums are associated with extremist elements amongst the hunting fraternity.
“Snares are usually used by gamekeepers to keep foxes away from game birds, but the purpose of this cell seems to be to kill simply for the pleasure of it.
“Snares are cruel and indiscriminate killers and can trap many household pets.”
The league says it is passing evidence to police.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “We are looking into the matter and if a package of evidence is forwarded to police, we will investigate further.”
Heather Holmes, of the RSPCA, said: “I am aware of these matters, and any initiative which acts to end cruelty towards animals is something the RSPCA would support.”