POLICE have warned catapults are being used as weapons amid a spate of incidents involving the toy.

This January alone, catapults have been linked to a number of incidents of criminal damage, with street lights shattered and cars damaged.

On New Year's Eve, a 13-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when he was hit in the eye with an object.

Police believe the schoolboy could have been struck by a projectile fired from a catapult, BB gun or air gun.

Officers have urged retailers to be responsible when selling catapults.

Inspector Lorna Gallimore, of East Dorset police, said: “It is not against the law to own a catapult and use them as toys.

"However, some people are choosing to use them as weapons to cause damage to premises or cars and, in very rare cases, to harm others."

Residents of Priory Road, Pinehurst Road and Uploads Road in West Moors have made complaints of anti-social behaviour to police this month.

Officers have been told "youths with catapults" have damaged street lights in the roads.

Police in Ferndown also received reports this month that street lights on the Heatherlands Estate had been shattered by projectiles fired from catapults.

An officer from the team said the damage was "unacceptable".

"Not only is it a safety issue for those out after dark, but the broken glass from the bulbs is a potential hazard to children, pets and wildlife," the spokesperson said.

"This is before the cost of replacement that we are all footing the bill for."

On the evening of January 16, two vehicles parked in Owls Road and Claylake Drive, Verwood, were damaged by stones which appeared to have been launched by a catapult.

The windscreens of both vehicles were shattered.

Buses were diverted away from Arne Avenue after a series of attacks. Police say catapults may have been used to fire stones at windows.

The 16 and 17 Morebus services were briefly diverted away, although are now running again. The damage caused to three buses has cost the company an estimated £2,000.

Insp Gallimore warned those responsible face arrest.

"These types of reported incidents are taken extremely seriously and will be dealt with robustly and proportionately," she said.

"Where people are in possession of catapults that cause, or are likely to cause, damage or injury, those people face the prospect of arrest.

"Catapults should be used responsibly and we encourage retailers to sell such items responsibly.”