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Heartless thieves have broken into the home of an 88-year-old pensioner living alone in east London and have stolen Christmas presents he had bought for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Retired West Ham FC groundsman Bob Cooley returned from a friend to discover intruders had smashed a panel in the back-door of his house in Goosley Lane, East Ham.

“They took all the games and dolls I bought for the children,” he said. “It’s very upsetting.

“I couldn’t get in the front-door when I got home this-morning. The security chain was on from the inside—I knew something was wrong.”

The intruders had put the chain on to avoid being disturbed, Bob believes.

But there was worse to come when he managed to get inside.

The thieves had also snatched his late wife Lillian’s gold wedding ring and engagement ring he kept in a box.

“I just touched the box whenever I got home and said ‘good morning’,” Bob added. “It’s really upsetting losing her rings—they can’t ever be replaced.”

Bob and Lillian married during the Second World War when he was home on leave from the King’s Rifles serving in Italy.

They had 10 children. Bob isn’t quite sure how many grandchildren there are. He thinks about 30. He also has nine great-grandchildren.

He was a groundsman at West Ham’s Upton Park during the 1970s and 80s and got to know the players well, including Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking.

Bob’s son Terry Cooley, 57, a security guard, said: “It was terrible to see my dad crying—he’s a tough old soldier.

“The burglary has knocked the stuffing out of him. He’s alone and frightened that the thieves could return when he’s home.”

Bob’s youngest son Stephen, 42, who hurried to the house from Beckton after the break-in, revealed: “It’s the second time in three years intruders have got in. Last time they ransacked the place and took his entire collection of old watches.”

Police forensics were at the house this-morning examining the crime scene. Newham Council also made temporary repairs to the back door.

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