WHEN police learned markings in flour were being left on streets in Kidlington and Bicester they were quick to warn residents criminals may be operating in the area.

Officers were concerned they may be a code for crooks planning to steal dogs.

Warnings were sent out, but the ‘mystery’ has been solved: runners have said markings have been left by them as a trail for teammates to follow.

Runners use flour rather than paper for the trail because it’s cheap and degrades quickly.

Leaving markings is called hashing, which started in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur — where British ex-pats left a paper trail. It spread around the world through military personal and civil servants and started in Bicester in 1974.

Iain Belton, of Bicester Hash House Harriers, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, moved to allay people’s fears.

He said: “The marks are our trails. A ‘hare’ goes out and leaves the markings for the ‘hounds’ to follow.

“It is similar to the old hare and hounds game, or paper chase, but in these environmentally-conscious days we use the cheapest flour we can find.

“The markings appeared on social media and everyone was panicking about dog napping.

“Over the years we have had several Thames Valley police officers – some extremely senior – hashing with us.

“For them not to have known what it was is really quite silly.”

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “We are aware the running club were responsible for some of the markings.

“However, there’s still an on-going investigation into some markings.”