Three relatives charged after nine-year-old boy is found locked in an outdoor dog kennel

A nine-year-old boy has been found by police padlocked in a dog kennel outside a US home.

When law enforcement officials arrived at the property in Lexington, in North Carolina, the boy reportedly told them he had been staying in the kennel since April.

He had a small amount of food in the cage with him, some clothes, but no blankets - and it was -2C (35.6F).

Sheriff's deputies broke into the kennel and the child was taken to hospital in Winston-Salem. He was assessed and then released the same day.

The child's father, Jonathan Starr, his stepmother Sarah Starr and her aunt Shelley Barnes - who owns the property - were all arrested and charged with child abuse and false imprisonment.

Ms Barnes also faces a charge of "using a dwelling for controlled substances".

All three are being held in Davidson County Jail on $100,000 bail bonds.

Local sheriff Richie Simmons said: "I have been in law enforcement for 36 years, this is the first time I've seen something this significant."

Mr Simmons said an anonymous person had called 911 just before 7am on 19 October and told them about the boy. When they found him, he said he had been there all night.

Police found two other children on the scene - inside the house - and two more who were in primary school.

All are now in the care of social services.

A spokesman for Davidson County sheriff's department told a news conference: "We believe this has been going on for some time."

Sheriff Simmons added: "This is why we are in law enforcement. We fight the battles for people who can't fight the battles."