Dorset police are today investigating the theft of a large white chalk figure from a hillside near the market town of Dorchester.
The figure, known locally as The Rude Giant disappeared from its home at Cerne Abbas in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Despite being a precious artefact dating back to the Iron Ages, the figure had often been kept overnight in an open field with little or no security by owners English Heritage.
Police are appealing for witnesses and would like to talk to the driver of a dark coloured vehicle, possibly a Fiat Punto seen in the area around the time of the robbery.
'Somebody may have seen something without realising it' said DC Ray Greaves 'we think there may have been a vehicle involved in the theft and would just like to talk to the driver of the Fiat Punto in order to eliminate him from our enquiries.
We think the thief may have had an accomplice to help carry the figure away and we would like him to come forward too. This figure has been in the same family for generations. They do not want to press charges and are simply keen for its safe return'.
It is not the first time the same figure has been targeted by thieves. Only last year, part of the figure was stolen from the hillside only to turn up later on the roof of a Berkshire mansion. Police believe the thieves may have been looking for somewhere to hide the body part and had probably been disturbed by a dog barking, dropping it on the roof in their haste to get away.
The figure is said by locals of Cerne Abbas to possess magical powers of fertility.
Indeed, the WPC sent to retrieve the body part spoke of how the more she handled it, the more it seemed to grow in size. 'In the end I had to call for back up but as soon as PC Arnold arrived it seemed to shrink back again – it was weird' said the WPC
The owners are still hopeful that the chalk figure has also simply wandered off again but police think that tyre tracks near the scene of the disappearance suggest a robbery.
'It is possible that the individual concerned has simply wandered off' said DC Arnold 'he is after all over 1200 years old and they do get confused at that age but we think robbery is still the more likely'.
Two years ago a similar incident happened when a large White Horse carved into the hillside of a field near Uffington in Oxfordshire also disappeared. However, a quick search of the area revealed the horse had simply wandered off after a rambler had left the gate open and was found in a nearby lane.
There is growing concern that other ancient monuments are under threat from visitors, with Stonehenge particularly vulnerable to souvenir hunters.
Parts of the Neolithic stone structure disappear every year, often to resurface as a feature or rockery base in somebody’s garden.
Police are still investigating the disappearance of Salisbury Cathedral, stolen during choral evensong last Tuesday and are continuing to question pupils from Lower Penn Comprehensive in Swindon following a school trip to the city.