A £1 MILLION Egyptian statue has been removed from Bolton museum after staff discovered it was fake.

The exhibit, known as the Amarna Princess, was bought for £440,000 two years ago by council bosses who claimed it was worth £1 million.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police's Arts and Antiques unit have taken the statue off display and launched an investigation.

Other exhibits have also been removed from a London Museum.

Cllr Barbara Ronson, leader of Bolton Council, said: "It has come as a real shock to learn that this is a fake.

"At the time this happened, the people responsible for buying it thought that all the necessary checks had been carried out.

"You wonder how something like this could happen with the modern technology available.

"A police investigation is under way, but it appears that this is related to other fakes in London."

It is unclear at this stage how doubt was first cast over the statue's authenticity and when it was removed.

The purchase of the sculpture in 2003 under the council's previous Labour administration made headlines around the world.

Observers claimed it was more impressive than the only other statue of its kind in the Louvre in Paris.

At the time, British Museum and council staff had been involved in authenticity checks.

It was thought the sculpture dated back to 1350 BC and was a depiction of one of the daughters of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Queen Nefertiti, who was also the mother of the legendary boy king Tutankhamun.

The council has never named the previous owner of the statue -- who lives in the borough -- because they wanted to remain out of the media spotlight.

Senior officers believed that the statuette was brought to Bolton by the owner's great grandfather in 1892 after it was purchased at a sale of the contents of Silverton Park in Devon, the home of the Earl of Egremont.

They thought they were being offered the statue at a knock down price because the owner wanted the piece to remain in Bolton.

It went on display in Bolton in January, 2004 after first being featured in an exhibition at the prestigious Hayward Gallery in London, which was opened by the Queen.

The purchase was funded with £360,000 from the National Heritage Museum and Art Gallery, a further £75,000 from the National Art Collections Fund and £2,500 from the Friends of Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.

On Thursday, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Museum said they could not comment while the police investigation was taking place. The National Art Collection Fund also declined to comment and the Friends of Bolton Museum and Art Gallery were not available.

Bolton Museum has one of one of the leading Egyptology collections in the country as a legacy of the strong ties forged by the town's cotton barons with traders on the Nile Delta.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "Detectives from the Metropolitan Police arts and antiques unit have removed an item from a Lancashire museum as part of a continuing investigation.

"Detectives from the same unit have removed a small amount of items from a London museum."

A spokesman for Bolton Council said: "We can confirm an exhibition has been temporarily removed from display and we are referring all inquires to the Metropolitan Police bureau."