THREE men have been arrested on suspicion of poaching in the night after locals heard "animals in distress".

Two vehicles were spotted driving off-road on private land near Ovington in Alresford just before 9pm on Saturday January 8.

Allegedly, the occupants were also seen to be shining lamps into the fields.

Police located muddy vehicle tracks and a vehicle in the distance on Fair Lane in Easton.

After a short pursuit a Fiat 4x4 vehicle was stopped by officers in a local garage forecourt. Another vehicle made off from officers into the Winnall industrial estate, but the occupants had decamped and fled the scene with a dog.

Three men were detained and a search of them, and the vehicle they were in, was conducted.

Officers found catapults, ball bearings, a large lamp, a lock knife and a quantity of Class B drugs.

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesperson said: "While officers also discovered two deceased hares in the vehicle along with quantity of dried blood within the vehicle and upon clothing worn by one of the men.

"Five lurcher-type dogs were also located and seized, alongside the two vehicles, as a result."

A 27-year-old man from Lightwater, Surrey was arrested on suspicion of entering land as a trespasser at night with poaching equipment and possession of an offensive weapon in a public place.

A 17-year-old boy from Ashford in Middlesex and a 19-year-old man from London were arrested on suspicion of entering land as a trespasser at night with poaching equipment.

All three have been released under investigation, pending further police enquiries.

The spokesperson added: "Hampshire Constabulary is committed to supporting our local rural communities and bringing those responsible for conducting or being involved in blood sports such as hare coursing to justice.

"Damage to farm land and property is never acceptable and will not be tolerated in Hampshire. We will do what we can to identify and prosecute those responsible – including using our powers to seize vehicles, dogs using to poach other animals and any other equipment linked to these offences."