One of Whanganui's street signs has been sent to a watery grave after a thief tossed it into the river while trying to escape police.

Caleb John Burkin was walking with another person, carrying a stolen road sign, on April 30 when he was spotted by the police.

Burkin made a run for it, dashing across the railway bridge with the sign, police prosecutor Sergeant Rachel Willemsen told the Whanganui District Court on Tuesday.

When police found Burkin he began "abusing" them before throwing the sign off the bridge, into the Whanganui River.

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"It could not be recovered," Ms Willemsen told the court. The cost of the sign is not yet known.

Burkin pleaded guilty to theft, and Judge Dugald Matheson referred the matter to Restorative Justice.

"As a ratepayer, the cost of signs is of some interest to me," the judge told Burkin.

"I will put that prejudice to one side," he added.

He remanded Burkin for sentencing to June 14.