DETERMINED thieves made off with part of a modern sculpture just hours after it was installed in York's historic Museum Gardens.

Security workers at the park were shocked to discover intruders had unscrewed a bronze cast of a Land Rover tyre from a striking sculpture by renowned English artist Michael Sandle.

The contemporary work is one of five large pieces that have been brought in on loan from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield.

Janet Barnes, York Museums Trust chief executive, said: "These objects are of no real use to anyone else. It is impossible to put a value on them.

"We are hugely disappointed that this initiative to make the Museum Gardens more interesting and to introduce people to sculpture has been disrupted at the first possible opportunity."

The sculpture has now been removed, while patrols in the park have been stepped up. Bosses are reviewing security arrangements for the remaining pieces.

Sergeant Colin Ventress, of York Police, said the wheel was thought to have been stolen in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The exhibits will be in place until November 2005, and visitors can pick up a leaflet guiding them on a sculpture trail around the gardens, which are open between 10am and 5pm. Entry is free.

Updated: 10:24 Friday, July 16, 2004