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Children killing animals with catapults will feel 'huge guilt' when they grow up, psychologist warns

A behavioural psychologist has warned children filming themselves using catapults to kill and torture animals will feel a "huge residual guilt" as they grow up.

It comes after Sky News exposed a UK-wide network in which children - some of primary school age - have been sharing footage and photos of their kills in groups on WhatsApp.

Warning: This story contains images and descriptions readers may find distressing

Speaking to The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee, behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings said it could have a lasting impact on the children involved.

"Unless they [the children] have got genuine psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies, they will stop.

"But what it will leave them with... [is] huge amounts of residual guilt.

"They'll remember this. Kids remember that sort of cruelty to animals for the rest of their lives."

She put the blame squarely on those leading or influencing the groups, who she said were likely to be older than many of those taking part.

"It's appalling what they're doing to these young children, who will not be able to forget when they realise what's been going on and how they've been influenced," she said.

"It's organised cruelty. Someone is deliberately sorting this who will be older and who is bringing younger children in for their entertainment, and kids are being lured in.

"It's like groupthink - you give up your moral ideas or ethics to be part of this group. You're showing off, you're comparing your kills with each other.

"These young kids are being brought into this disassociation."

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Sky News has discovered nearly 500 members of catapult groups on WhatsApp, in which more than 350 photos and videos have been shared of animals that have been killed or wounded with the weapons.

In some videos, injured animals are shown dying slowly after being shot with hand-held catapults.

In others, young people kick and abuse the animals after shooting them - as well as posing while holding their dead bodies.

The RSPCA described the material in the groups as "horrendous" and warned it was an "emerging trend".

The "sick" attacks have prompted calls for a change in the law as catapults are not classed as illegal weapons and can be bought and carried legally.

The animals targeted include pigs, deer, pigeons, foxes, squirrels, pheasants, rabbits, geese and ducks - with one charity saying it had seen an "exponential" rise in birds with catapult injuries.

WhatsApp said the material being shared in the catapult groups was against its terms of use.

A spokesperson for the messaging app told Sky News: "We respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy."