Arsonists are believed to have destroyed a 53ft (16m) tall dinosaur built for a touring art project, police said.

The steel and polyester model was erected on Southsea Common in Portsmouth, Hampshire, this summer.

But at 2.40am on Friday a crew from Southsea fire station was called to put out the blaze. They spent 45 minutes tackling the fire and damping down the remains of the structure.

The statue, called Luna Park, recreated the discovery in the 1970s of dinosaur bones, wrongly presumed to be that of the largest dinosaur, ultrasauros.

The bones were later identified as having come from two different species.

The Arts Council-funded work was co-commissioned by three galleries - Portsmouth's Aspex gallery, Firstsite in Colchester, Essex, and Chapter, based in Cardiff.

The statue was due to be installed in Colchester on October 10 before moving on to Cardiff but it was hoped that it would return permanently to Portsmouth.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: "It's incredibly sad. It has been here for the summer and it's been incredibly popular - families have loved it, kids have loved climbing all over it.

"I don't know who did it, but the question has been asked of me that it survived the whole of the summer but within a week of the students returning to university it's been burned down.

"We were wondering whether we could keep it permanently because it was such a popular thing but it looks like that won't be possible now."