A PLAQUE which commemorates one of the region's greatest journalists has been removed.

Some people in Darlington believed the plaque dedicated to former Northern Echo editor WT Stead had been stolen but in fact it has merely been removed by Darlington Borough Council for a clean and will eventually be returned.

The commemorative plate above the stone where Stead is thought to have tethered his horse had been daubed with felt-tip by vandals.

The granite boulder and metal tethering ring was probably retrieved as a keepsake when Stead's house at Grainey Hill, near Darlington, was demolished following his departure for London in 1880 to work for the Pall Mall Gazette.

From there it made its way to the Coniscliffe Road garden of WG Mitchell who appropriated the stone as a memorial by installing at its side a commemorative plaque. It was moved to its present position, appropriately sited opposite The Northern Echo office building, in the early 1950s.

William Thomas Stead, who lived from 1849 to 1912, originally from Embleton, Northumberland, was a pioneering investigative journalist. He was jailed for his work exposing child prostitution in which he 'bought' a child to prove his point. Nonetheless, his work helped raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.

Stead died on the Titanic in 1912.

The plaque reads: "This stone, originally in possession of Mr WT Stead when resident at Grainey Hill and to which he tethered his dogs and pony, is probably the only monument in granite to his memory in Darlington."