POLICE have recovered one of two antique pistols stolen from a New Forest museum.

The weapons were once owned by Captain Thomas Hardy who served alongside Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Police launched a nationwide hunt for the pistols after the weapons were taken from the museum at Buckler's Hard in 1999.

The trail led to Paul Stone, 38, who was staying at a boarding house in Totton.

Det Con Neil Cheyne, of Totton CID, said police searched the property and found one of the guns sewn into the bottom of an armchair. Stone was charged with a series of offences, including receiving stolen property, and he was jailed for a total of 18 months at Bournemouth Crown Court.

This week, police presented the historic item to Mike Lucas, manager of the Buckler's Hard attractions.

Det Con Cheyne said: "The pistol is a vital part of our heritage and I was very pleased to return it to the museum.

"We'd very much like to hear from anyone who knows the whereabouts of the other pistol, which is identical to the one we've recovered."

Mr Lucas said: "We're delighted that one of the pistols has been safely returned to the museum. It will go back on display for visitors to enjoy, hopefully for many more years to come."

The two guns, thought to be worth about £5,000, were presented to Captain Hardy by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, who died in 1807.

They were loaned to the museum by their current owner, who knew about Buckler's Hard and its links with Lord Nelson.