A pair of life-sized Laurel and Hardy statues have been found nearly a year after they were stolen.
Lesley Haylett, 62, and her partner Peter Elliott, 72, were left devastated after the 6ft figures were taken from outside their home in Romford, London, for a fourth time last July.
Mr Elliott, who was given the statues as a gift by Ms Haylett more than 40 years ago, was in hospital receiving a bone marrow transplant at the time they were stolen.
Ms Haylett said Laurel and Hardy were found by police on July 15 in a garage – nearly exactly a year after they disappeared – but she was not told by officers exactly where they were recovered.
She told the PA news agency: “I just couldn’t believe it when the police told me they’d found them, especially as they went missing the day Pete went in for a bone marrow transplant.
“It was a pure fluke that the police found them. They were carrying out a search when they found them under some blue tarpaulin in a lock-up garage.
“They told me that one of the officers, Pc Jo McCarthy, recognised them and said, ‘That’s Laurel and Hardy, they’ve been stolen’.”
As part of the campaign to find the statues, business owner Dean Floyd had offered a £5,000 reward – which he then increased to £10,000 – to try to encourage someone to come forward.
Ms Haylett said: “Pete couldn’t believe it when I told him they had been found – he was really, really pleased.
“We really thought they’d gone. Especially when Dean upped his reward to £10,000 and no-one came forward. It’s a lot of money and I really thought someone would ring up and say ‘Oh, my mate’s got them in his garage.’
“So Pete is over the moon, he really is. He couldn’t believe they were back. I can’t believe they’re back.”
Ms Haylett added she was really grateful to the police, especially Pc McCarthy, for finding them.
The fibreglass statues have been stolen numerous times over the years and were last returned in 2018 after being taken three years earlier in 2015.
Ms Haylett said the statues are well-known in the area as they have been part of an elaborate Christmas display the pair have organised annually in aid of charity for the past 36 years.
She added that Laurel and Hardy will return to their rightful place in the display this Christmas after being missing from last year’s.
Mr Floyd, who offered the reward on behalf of his construction company Chigwell Group, said: “I am absolutely over the moon that the Laurel and Hardy statues have now been returned to their rightful owners.
“When I was told of the theft I acted immediately to offer a £10,000 reward for their safe return, but when no information came forward, like many others feared they’d never be seen again.
“So we were as surprised and delighted as everyone else to hear that the boys had been found and will soon be back on display and again play a central part in some of the local community fundraising activities.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said: “The statues were recovered as part of a search in relation to a separate police investigation. We are delighted that we’ve been able to reunite Laurel and Hardy with their owner.”
Comedy duo Laurel and Hardy were known for slapstick comedy short films from the 1920s to the 1940s.