WITH its beautifully carved praying hands and intricately decorated gown, Ramsbottom’s very own spice girl has been welcoming diners to a popular restaurant for more than a decade.

But the warm welcomes are no more after the 4ft 5in statue, known as Lady Doll, was stolen from Spice Garden restaurant leaving the owners shocked.

They are mystified as to why someone should want to steal the traditional Thai statue, which cost £200 when the restaurant’s owners imported it from the Far East in 2003.

Police are investigating the crime and diners have turned detective in a bid to track down Lady Doll using the internet.

Gae Owen, who owns the restaurant with her husband John, said: “We are puzzled by what has happened. It’s either a horrible crime or a prank that has got out of hand. I am fascinated to know who has taken it and why.”

The restaurant, in Square Street, opened in 1997 and the Owens took over five years later.

They redecorated and ordered Lady Doll from Thailand, giving it pride of place at the entrance to welcome diners, as is Thai tradition.

Mrs Owen said: “It has always been very popular with customers.

“Some of them ask where it came from and about the traditions and some have their photo- graphs taken with it, in the same way you would if you went to a tourist place.

“It has never been damaged or touched before, so it is shocking that now it has been stolen.”

Staff noticed it was missing at 11pm on July 27 and Mrs Owen launched a Facebook page called Help Find the Spice Garden Ramsbottom’s Lady Doll, featuring a ‘missing’ poster and a milk carton appeal.

Supp- orters have got in touch with Mrs Owen to say they saw a man carrying Lady Doll along Bridge Street at about 4pm the same day.

She is now working with Bridge Street shop owners to see if they have CCTV of the man.Mrs Owen sadi: “I am glad that people are helping us to find the statue and hopefully we will get it back safe.”

Her friend Louise Bousfield said: “It is very upsetting that someone has stolen the statue and everyone wants it to be safely returned.

“Someone out there must know where it is.”