Police have launched an investigation after hounds chased a fox and deer through the grounds of an animal sanctuary, causing dozens of cats to “flee for their lives”.
The Celia Hammond Animal Trust is home to 130 rescued cats at its Greenacres Rehoming Centre and Sanctuary, near Hastings, in East Sussex.
Police announced on Friday they would be launching an investigation after a pack of “uncontrolled” dogs ran through its grounds, leading to 60 of its residents going missing.
The animal sanctuary said in a statement: “We posted on social media about a very frightening and traumatic incident that occurred on Tuesday... at 4pm at our sanctuary in East Sussex when a pack of uncontrolled fox hounds in full cry ran through the sanctuary in pursuit of a fox and a deer forcing our resident cats who live freely in the grounds to flee for their lives.”
The sanctuary said Tuesday’s events were “extremely traumatic for our resident animals” and “shocking and distressing” for staff and volunteers, who spent an hour and a half trying to “chase the large fox hounds back out of the sanctuary grounds”.
“We have lodged a complaint with the police and East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt and will be seeking legal advice on the way forward,” Celia Hammond Animal Sanctuary added.
As of Saturday morning, eight cats were still unaccounted for.
Update 13 Jan. FLUMP one of the missing cats has been spotted twice this morning. We are so happy. We hope we can bring you the same news for the 8 unaccounted for cats very soon.— Celia Hammond (@CeliaHammond) January 13, 2018
A spokesperson on behalf of Sussex and Romney Hunt said the huntsmen “apologised to the owners right away for any inconvenience caused”.
An earlier statement released by Sussex Police this week said that circumstances surrounding the incident were being “reviewed” to establish whether any criminal offences had taken place.
The latest statement from Sussex Police said that Tuesday’s incident may have violated the Hunting Act.
The force issued the following statement on Friday in a series of tweets on social media:
“We are now investigating the incident at Celia Hammond Animal Trust, which potentially involves a number of complex areas of law, including dog legislation and the Hunting Act. If criminal offences are identified, we will move forward with a view to prosecution.
“We will update when the investigating is complete.
“Many have asked why no action was taken immediately by the officers who attended at the time. Much of the detail of the incident has only come to light since we assisted sanctuary staff remove the dogs from the land to reduce the impact on the affected animals as quickly as possible.
“The sanctuary owner has provided more information and officers are in touch with her.
“We have to focus on fact and the law, which we uphold, but do not make.
“While we appreciate this is a very emotive subject, we would respectfully ask that you do not use other posts on our social media to make your points as this is having an impact on other important messages to keep people safe from threat and harm.”
In a statement to the Mirror Online, a spokesperson for the hunt added: “We can confirm that hounds met at Udimore, near Rye on January 9 and were legally trail-hunting throughout the day to comply with the Hunting Act 2004.
“Although nobody from the hunt witnessed hounds following anything other than their original trail, it is suspected that a few hounds might have deviated from their trail onto the scent of a live quarry which they followed into the wildlife sanctuary.”
HuffPost UK has contacted East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt for further comment.
Since the incident, thousands of pounds have been donated to the animal charity on its JustGiving page, with more than £6,000 being raised at the time of writing.
Last year, police launched an appeal for witnesses after a member of the East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt was caught on camera repeatedly whipping a hunt saboteur.