POLICE have launched an investigation after a sheep was stabbed eight times and dumped in the middle of a New Forest road.

The grim discovery was made at Kewlake Lane, Cadnam - sparking fears that a sheep killer on the loose in the Forest has struck again.

It follows a spate of incidents in the neighbouring parish of Bramshaw area two months ago.

As reported in the Daily Echo, a sheep was stabbed to death at Penn Common and marked with pentagrams - a five-pointed star often associated with occultism.

A cow was found with a wound on its neck and two calves grazing at nearby Linwood suffered minor injuries to their shoulders.

At around the same time phallic symbols and the devil's number - 666 - were sprayed on signs and doors at the 12th century St Peter's Church, Bramshaw.

Police mounted extra patrols amid fears that members of a Satanic-style cult were active in the area.

The Cadnam incident involved a sheep which was about 18 months old.

The animal's owner, Wendy Maughan, said: "I'm extremely saddened that we seem to live in a society where someone gets pleasure by attacking and stabbing to death innocent, non-aggressive animals. It was a terrible way for us to start the new decade."

One of her neighbours, Andrew Parry-Norton, added: "My wife went off to work and rang me to say there was a dead sheep in the road.

"I went up there myself and found a ewe which looked as if it had been dragged into the middle of the lane.

"A broken pitchfork had been placed on the sheep's body, along with a cross made of hay and straw. It gave me the creeps."

An examination of the animal showed its body was covered in puncture wounds. It appeared to have been stabbed eight times - possibly with a long thin blade.

A police spokesman said the sheep was found on January 2 at around 7.30am.

He added: "It's currently unclear how the sheep died. A pitchfork was found at the scene but it is not clear if it was used to kill the sheep.

"We are looking into all lines of enquiry and will link together similar crimes if the evidence allows us to."

Anyone with information can call Hampshire police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44200001391.