An overjoyed son has told how he broke down in tears when his mother’s stolen ashes were returned by a masked man in a white van.
But the 63-year-old says he has now been given back the ceramic container after a mystery man knocked on his door last Thursday claiming he had found it - and another flowerpot stolen on the same day - while working in a back garden.
“It was strange,” Mr Clifford recalled.
“I got a knock on the door just before 8pm.
“When I answered the door, there was a guy in a mask who said ‘are you the chap who lost the pot plants with your mum’s ashes in?’
“He said he thought he’d found them and opened up the back of the van and, sure enough, there they were.”
Mr Clifford, who worked as a police officer for 25 years, woke up on May 23 to the discover the two pot plants had been stolen.
The Spires Academy technician was left feeling devastated when he realised his beloved mum’s ashes, which had been in a biodegradable urn placed in one of the pots, were also missing.
A police probe was launched into the theft shortly afterwards but officers had no luck tracking the pots down.
“As soon as the man opened the door, I was in tears,” Mr Clifford added.
“I never thought I’d see them again. I was gobsmacked."
“They look in a pretty bad state as if they were under covers or something for the last month.
“They look like they were neglected while they were away.”
Ethel Clifford died four years ago at the age of 86.
Most of her ashes were scattered near her home in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, while the remainder was given to Mr Clifford.
He decided to store them outside his front door as she enjoyed spending time in his front garden whenever she travelled to Broomfield to stay with her son.
But now Mr Clifford says he has decided to store the pots in a more secure location in his back garden.