GANGS of illegal coursers who continue to invade farmers’ fields to kill hares with dogs are being warned they will be brought to justice.

Police have relaunched an operation in the Vale of White Horse to put a stop to the bloodsport which sees bets placed on lurchers or greyhounds killing hares.

Farmers have reported being threatened by hare coursers in the past, having their property and buildings attacked and even seeing animals released on to the roads.

The sport – banned in 2004 to protect the endangered brown hare – usually takes places in fields between September and June, when crops have been harvested and hares are easy to spot.

Pc Darren James, who has worked on Operation Migrate for the last two years, said: “Every autumn and winter hare coursing becomes a major issue in rural areas.

“It is far more than just an animal welfare issues – damage is often caused to property, fences and crops, and landowners have also suffered theft of diesel, metals and plant machinery from their land.

“The Wantage neighbourhood policing team will investigate all incidents and together with our partners in the Crown Prosecution Service will strive to bring all offenders to justice.”

In 2008, the team arrested 25 people for crimes including hare coursing – which carries the penalty of up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine – public order and drug offences. The following year, 15 were arrested.

Pc James said the problem was “horrendous” several years ago, but officers were slowly driving the coursers away, though some days can see five or more reports.

He said perpetrators tended to come from the Midlands, the south coast and South Wales, as the land in Oxfordshire is more suitable for coursing.

Hotspots in Oxfordshire include Faringdon, Letcombe, Blewbury and Longworth. Pc James said: “Traditionally Sunday is the day where it’s an issue, but last year we found some were happening midweek. The problem has got a lot better and the confidence from the landowners is high in this area.

“When we relaunched the operation three or four years ago it was horrendous but every year we made arrests and they know if they come to this area, they will get a robust response.

“We have had other forces come to us asking for advice in tackling it because we have displaced it.”

Call police on 08458 505505 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 if you have information about harecoursing.