North Yorkshire Police have launched an investigation following the shooting of two stray horses by police marksmen.

The horses had been loose in Dunnington for several days and were eventually shot on Sunday 13 September after attempts to capture and stop them bolting repeatedly across the A1079 failed.

But witnesses said it took the marksmen 19 attempts to kill one horse, and local residents are rounding angrily on a vet who left the scene before the shootings.

One eye witness, posting a comment on The York Press website, said: “The police only did what they did as they were sick of phone calls [about the loose horses]…but it should not have been dealt with in the way it was…like fun target practice.”

Superintendent Andy McMillan of North Yorkshire police said he is “very mindful of the concerns raised” and has ordered a detailed review of the circumstances.

He said in a statement: “The decision to shoot the wild horses was taken to protect the public from the animals running onto a busy road and causing a serious or fatal collision.”

A police spokesman told H&H that guidelines set out in the Safer Horse Rescues protocol developed by the horse industry after police fumbled the shooting of a mare and foal in Northumbria in 2005 were not followed “because it is aimed at horses that are trapped or stuck”.

He added: “But we did call out the equine vet via the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and sought help from the RSPCA.”

Vet James Christie from Minster Equine Clinic attended the scene. He said in a statement that a number of options, including the use of tranquiliser darts, were discussed before police decided to call marksmen.

He added: “At this point I left the scene after advising police I would be available on my mobile phone or to attend should further assistance or advice prove necessary.”