AN “irreplaceable” love letter that was taken from a widow when her handbag was swiped has now been returned to her.

When Cathy (last name withheld) noticed her handbag had been stolen while shopping in Waitrose in Christchurch, her main concern was for the precious letter that had been taken with it.

It was written by her late husband, Nigel, over 30 years ago. He passed away from cancer in March 2014 aged 74.

Following a police appeal to track down the handbag, it was discovered by John Chimes near to The Priory two weeks later. All the handbag’s contents, including marriage and birth certificates, Nigel’s passport, and Cathy’s purse and keys, were still inside apart from £200 in cash.

“The letter from my husband is irreplaceable. It was all I cared about. When my handbag was stolen, I thought ‘I’m just a nobody now’. It felt really horrible, I felt rough for a couple of days,” Cathy said.

“When police called me to say the handbag was at Bournemouth police station, I was very excited. I phoned my friend, Val, straight away and we drove over there. I sat and read the letter before I even left the police station.

“I was so grateful for the press coverage. The response we’ve had from this has been fantastic.”

Mr Chimes, an ex-fireman, said he found Cathy’s handbag in a black bin bag underneath a bush and handed it in to the police station.

“When she rang me up, she couldn’t thank me enough. She was very pleased and said there weren’t a lot of people about like me.”

Cathy and Nigel used to own a kitchen and bathroom renovation business. When Nigel was away from home for work, he sent Cathy love letters and gifts.

“He’d often send me love letters. If he was away for a job, he used to buy me a toy. I’ve got teddy bears, lions and tigers.

“This love letter that was stolen always stays with me, though,” she said.

Following the theft of her handbag, Cathy now leaves items such as Nigel’s passport and their marriage certificate at home. She also now has bells in her bag which will alert her if someone tries to take it.

“There was a police stand at the quay and they were giving them away. You’ve only got to move it and it makes a noise. If someone ever picks it up again, which I hope they won’t, I’ll know.

“I really am so grateful my handbag was found,” she added.