ALMOST 150 reports of dog fighting incidents have been reported in Hampshire in the past four years, new figures from the RSPCA reveal.

The leading animal welfare charity released new figures ahead of Dog Fighting Awareness Day, Monday, April 8 - an American awareness day that the charity believes should be extended to the UK where dog fighting is still "rife".

A total of 149 reports of dog fighting incidents have been reported in Hampshire in the past four years.

RSPCA dog fighting expert and Special Operations Unit (SOU) chief inspector Mike Butcher said: “Our figures show that in the past four years the RSPCA has received 7,915 reports of dog fighting incidents.

"While it’s promising to see that these figures are dropping year on year, it’s still staggering that something which has been illegal for almost 200 years and a bloody pastime which most people would consider consigned to history is still so rife.”

Dog fighting was outlawed in England in 1835 but still goes on today.

The RSPCA - founded in 1824 - is the country’s leading organisation tackling dog fighting and, for the last four decades, the RSPCA’s SOU have been investigating reports, rescuing dogs and prosecuting perpetrators.

London was found to be a dog fighting "hotspot" with 653 cases in the past four years.

It was followed by West Midlands with 456 cases; Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire with 380 cases each; South Yorkshire with 279 cases; Essex with 257 cases; Kent with 230 cases; Lancashire with 228 cases; Lincolnshire with 215 cases; and Merseyside with 180 cases.

Last month, a group who trained and bred dogs for fighting in Lincolnshire and Wales were convicted following a trial in a case brought by the RSPCA.

John Knibbs and Kimberleigh Steele were both convicted in their absence for offences and a warrant was issued for their arrests.

They are due to be sentenced on National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.

An investigation into Mr Knibbs, who was first prosecuted for dog fighting by the RSPCA in 2009, led to a warrant at a property in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, in September 2017 where eight dogs were removed.