A GRANDMOTHER is devastated after thieves posing as plumbers stole her entire collection of antique family jewellery from her bedroom.

The two men crept into Christine Knapp’s flat while she slept and raided her jewellery box filled with more than 19 treasured rings, necklaces, bracelets and watches, some of which dated back to the early 1900s and were worth thousands of pounds. They also grabbed £100 in cash from her bedside drawer.

The 71-year-old widow was having a nap on the sofa of her home in Rectory Gardens, in Broadwater, Worthing, but woke to the sound of cupboards and drawers being opened.

When she went to the bathroom she discovered a man standing in the hallway who said he had come to check the water pipes.

He admired photographs of her family, drawings by her grandchildren and sat in her living room before pretending to check the kitchen taps.

But when she asked for identification he “patted himself down” and said he would step outside briefly to find it.

Following him into the hallway, she spotted another man coming out of her bedroom and the pair left together. Noticing that belongings, including her teddy bear, had been moved she turned to find the jewellery box on her dressing table completely empty.

She rushed outside to raise the alarm but the men had already left and no one had seen them. Police are investigating the burglary which took place at around 11.30am on September 21 and have appealed for witnesses.

Mrs Knapp, who is recovering from a hip operation, said: “I kept crying and crying. I’ve had trouble sleeping ever since because they were in my bedroom.

“I trusted everybody but now I’m a nervous wreck.

“The jewellery is so special to me. They knew which pieces were valuable, they took the gold and silver, but left a lot.

“I had just closed my eyes for a few minutes because I had not felt well after visiting the dentist but I forgot to lock the door.

“I thought the sound of furniture being moved was my neighbour. I believed the man was checking the pipes because there had been some problems with flooding in the building.”

She said in hindsight she found it odd he used a cloth to touch the kitchen tap and thinks this was to avoid leaving fingerprints.

She added: “I’ve come through a lot in my life but I try to be positive. I am a happy person, I like to have a laugh and I am called ‘twinkle toes’ because I am always the first up to dance. But having this happen to me has made it difficult. I’m trying to stay strong. It could have been worse, I could have been knocked on the head.

“I want to warn everyone so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Mrs Knapp is desperate to be reunited with the jewellery which was handed down to her by her late parents Cissie and Arthur Coles – particularly a 1911 gold sovereign pendant, a gold ingot necklace showing a calendar with diamonds on the 17th and 19th of November marking her birthday and wedding day, and a charm bracelet featuring an engraved mining medal of her father’s from his time working at Crumlin Pits.

Hanover Housing Association, which runs the block of flats for elderly residents where Mrs Knapp lives, insists it is secure with an intercom and a part-time warden. But there is no CCTV and the warden’s post was covered off-site while she was on holiday.

Mrs Knapp thinks the thieves came in the main door behind another resident.

She added: “This is meant to be a secure building but they managed to get in easily and there aren’t any cameras.”

The association said it would consider installing surveillance and will speak to residents about safety measures.

A spokesman said it was “disturbing” such a “cowardly act” had taken place on its estate by “unscrupulous perpetrators”.

He added: “Hanover takes the security and wellbeing of its residents very seriously and we always advise residents to remain vigilant about security even when inside their property.”

The men are described as white and around 5ft 10in tall.

One was slightly taller, of medium build with dark hair and an Irish accent.

The other was of medium to large build with ginger hair.

Detective Constable Greg Brown urged anyone who has been offered jewellery for sale or who recognised the men to call police on 101 quoting 453 of 21/09.