A COLLECTION of rare Viking artefacts have gone missing from an historic North-East church.

A trio of sculptured stones dating back to early Medieval times were reported stolen from All Saints Church, in Sockburn, near Darlington, after church members discovered the pieces had vanished.

Police began investigating the possible theft last week, but the valuable Viking remains could have gone missing at any point since September 2015.

The collection of nationally-important stones are rare surviving examples of 9th and 10th Century Viking artefacts and police believe thieves could have removed the carved blocks for a number of reasons.

PC Simon Hopper, an officer investigating the case, said: “These items have significant historical value and might have been taken by someone with a genuine passion in this field who thought they could be better preserved elsewhere.

“It could also be the case they have been removed by someone who thought they would look nice in their garden and did not realise their value.

“But of course there is also the obvious possibility they have been stolen for potential monetary gain.”

The sculptured stones were collected during the 19th Century by landowner, Sir Edward Buckley, who restored and re-roofed part of the ruined Sockburn church specifically “for the reception and preservation of the ancient stones lying among the ruins”.

Preservation group, Historic England, expressed concern over the missing Medieval stones that were first catalogued in 1905 before being added to the Corpus of Anglo Saxon Sculpture in 1984.

Carol Pyrah, planning director for Historic England in the North-East, said: “We are extremely concerned about the loss of these early Medieval stones not only because they are works of art in their own right but also because of their contribution to the significance of this nationally-important archaeological site.

“We will continue to work with the owner and the police to raise awareness of their loss and hopefully to expedite their recovery.”

One of the missing artefacts is a fragment of a Medieval cross slab carved with a small sword and another piece dating back to the 9th Century includes a Viking runic inscription, which translates to “in memory of Mael-Muriel”.

Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisor for Historic England, said: “This is not a victimless crime.

“Church buildings are places of cultural, historic, religious and – to many people – personal importance and the loss of these three nationally-significant stones robs us of our shared history.

“The value of England’s heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence.

“The impact of theft on our historic buildings and cultural property has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.”

All Saints Church, which stands close to the North Yorkshire border on the outskirts of Darlington, is also a rare surviving example of both pre- and post-Norman Conquest church site and graveyard.

A Diocese of Durham spokesman said: “The removal of these important artefacts is of great concern.

“We would ask anyone who has any information that would lead to their safe return to come forward and contact the police as soon as possible.”