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This week it will be reinstalled on its plinth in the grounds of Sledmere House, near Driffield where it had previously stood for over 100 years.

The life-size, half-ton stone figure emblematic of Autumn, pictured here, was retrieved by an investigator from the recently formed company Art Recovery acting on instructions from the owner of the statue Sir Tatton Sykes, whose family has lived at Sledmere for 250 years. The Goddess of the Harvest was probably acquired by one of Tatton's ancestors whilst on the Grand Tour.

Local police had been alerted following the theft in December 2002, but it was only five months later that a lead was established. An anonymous phone call was made to the stolen art database service Trace, informing them that a statue that matched the description had been seen on the premises of a shipping agent in Essex.

Trace - who together with the international investigative service, the James Mintz Group make up Art Recovery - made inquiries and discovered that the statue had been sent to America and was for sale with the Chicago garden statuary dealer. There it was quickly identified and reclaimed with the full co-operation of the dealer. Negotiations were then begun for its hand-over and repatriation to the UK.

"I was absolutely overjoyed when I heard the statue had been recovered," said Sir Tatton. "It is one of the family's favourite pieces of garden statuary and everyone was devastated when it was stolen."