A charity says it is trying to deter violent behaviour in a Sussex town by teaching its children not to torture animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has declared an animal welfare “emergency” in Shoreham and is sending “humane-education materials” to primary schools in the area.

The US-based charity said it was responding to last week’s report in The Argus about a Shoreham teenager who was convicted of punching a four-month-old kitten .

The 16-year-old was prosecuted by the RSPCA after he broke the pet’s jaw and nearly dislodged its eye before trying to drown it in a bath.

PETA associate director Mimi Bekhechi said children in Shoreham needed to be educated about animals to prevent “an unchecked escalation in acts of violence directed at the vulnerable”.

She said: “We want to prevent future acts of cruelty. Animal abuse in children must always be taken very seriously because it can signal anti-social crimes to come. It is imperative to address any lack of empathy and respect for other living beings with urgency.

“A history of cruelty to animals appears in the records of all convicted psychopathic killers as well as serial murderers like Ian Huntley, Thomas Hamilton, Fred West and Ian Brady.

“All of these started out by deliberately harming animals and feeding off the feeling of power that it gave them.”

PETA claims to be the largest animal rights group in the world and counts Pamela Anderson, Stella McCartney and Drew Barrymore among its celebrity supporters.

'Over reaction'

Its “emergency” information packs, titled Share The World, will arrive at Shoreham primary schools in time for the new term.

Neil Parkin, leader of Adur District Council, said the charity had “grossly overreacted”.

He said: “Why do these people assume that just because of one mindless oik, all kids in Shoreham are somehow potential torturers?

“I have two children at primary schools in Shoreham and I don’t appreciate them being tarred with this brush. It’s ridiculous, frankly.”

Dr Greg Madison, a clinical psychologist from Brighton, said PETA’s approach was “way too simplistic.”

He said: “There’s some evidence that children who torture animals may grow up to be psychopaths – but often you’ll actually find that someone who is very cruel to humans will actually treat their pets with love and affection.

“It’s an incredibly complex situation and I’m not sure this campaign will have much of an effect.”