THEY were precious reminders of the wife he had lost only days earlier.

Thieves targeted a grieving widower and made off with several items, including his final gift to the woman who had shared his life for almost 40 years.

Retired engineer Graeme Searle, 62, had just suffered the shock of losing his wife Yvonne when burglars broke into the couple’s Hampshire home.

Ignoring the sympathy cards on the mantelpiece, the intruders stole several items of jewellery that had belonged to Mrs Searle.

They also made off with an opal and diamond pendant that her husband bought after she picked it out herself on the Jewellery Channel. “It arrived 12 hours after she died – they just ripped it out of the box,” he said.

Mr Searle appealed to the thieves to return the precious keepsake, saying: “That’s the thing that really hurts – it’s my last memory of her.”

The 62-year-old former carer had been battling cancer for seven years and died of kidney failure. Her funeral is being held today.

A few days after she died Mr Searle went to stay with relatives and arranged for his daughter Diane to sort through her mother’s possessions.

She arrived at the bungalow in Barton on Sea, to discover that the property had been burgled.

Sitting in the room where he nursed his wife, Mr Searle wept as he described the heartache caused by the break-in.

He said: “I was still numb from Yvonne’s death and almost went into auto-pilot, then I looked through the list of the things that had been taken. I knew what they’d meant to her.

“My wife hasn’t even been cremated yet and someone has stolen some of her things.

“I can’t think what goes through the heads of people who commit this sort of crime.

“They’re just below what you wipe off your shoes when you step in something nasty.”

The break-in occurred between 12.30pm on February 9 and 11.15am the following day.

Items stolen include a smoky quartz heart pendant on a gold chain, a small gold-framed photograph, a flower-shaped yellow gold opal brooch and a man’s Galaxy watch with a leather strap.

Also taken were seven rings, plus a gold, diamond and sapphire eternity ring and a gold signet ring engraved with the initials GS.

A police spokesman said: “This crime was a cruel blow to a man who was bereaved very recently.

Many of the stolen items belonged to his late wife and are of particular sentimental value.”

Police are anxious to trace a woman who was seen looking at homes in the Wavendon Avenue area and writing in a notebook.

Call Lyndhurst CID on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.