THIEVES have taken liberties with a village's heritage.

They have stolen a liberty stone - a parish boundary marker - from Picton, which lies between Kirklevington and Appleton Wiske.

Police are appealing for help in tracking down those responsible.

The liberty stone had marked the parish border for at least 150 years - perhaps more than 300, locals believe.

One side bears the legend "Pickton Liberty starts here" and "Pickton Liberty ends here" is on the other; the letter K was dropped from the village name 150 years ago.

Liz Robinson, whose farmland runs close to where the stone sat hidden, said its existence was deliberately not made widely known in a bid to avoid theft.

She had photographs taken some years ago after a similar artefact in Kirklevington was stolen, and kept an eye on it whenever she was passing.

"I'm angry about it - it's a bit of our history gone missing," she said.

"This was no impulse or opportunity theft," said PC Lee Allenby of North Yorkshire police. "This is a substantial piece of masonry, with about 2ft of solid stone above the ground and at least the same below.

"I reckon it would have taken several people, lifting gear, or both to haul it out of the ground and on to a vehicle."

PC Allenby said it was hard to put a value on the stone, but the effort involved in taking it suggested it was worth a substantial amount.

He now wants to hear from two possible groups of witnesses:

* Anyone who has seen or heard suspicious activity around Picton in the last two weeks, especially involving a strange van or truck.

* Anyone offered a heavy piece of Picton's history, perhaps a collector or someone who buys unusual garden ornaments.

The proximity of the A19 suggests the thieves' potential market could be in the Teesside area.

Anyone with information should call Northallerton police on 0845 6060247.