A family's Christmas was snatched from them while they did their festive food shop.

Crooks smashed through the back door of a house in Mildmay Road, Burnham, while homeowners Bill Cole, 77, and wife Carolyn, 69, were buying food for their family’s Christmas lunch.

The raiders “rifled” through the property, stealing jewellery and all but two heavy Christmas presents from under the tree.

They also ate Carolyn’s homemade mince pies.

Mr Cole said: “We have been absolutely devastated.

“We thought we had organised Christmas really well and then it was all taken from us.

“It was hard for my wife as she spent six weeks wrapping and preparing all the presents.

“Christmas has literally been stolen from us.”

Mr Cole said the break-in did not stop the family from trying to celebrate the holiday, but it was very difficult.

Daughter Louise Morris said her parents were “in shock” following the December 22 incident.

She said: “Since that day their Christmas lights remain off.

“It wasn’t the value of the presents that has upset them but the thought, love, care and time that had gone into choosing their gifts and wrapping them and looking forward to giving these gifts to their grandchildren.

“Everything was gone in an instant.

The couple had planned to host Christmas with their six grandchildren, children and close friends.

Following the incident, Louise’s brother-in-law posted an appeal on social media to help his relatives.

The family say they were “amazed and heartened” so many people in the community had offered them gifts to replace the presents they had lost.

Louise said: “They felt they couldn’t accept these gifts but were so grateful for people’s generosity.”

The couple said police arrived on the scene within ten minutes of Mr Cole dialling 999.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “Suspects forced entry to the property, carried out a messy search and then took items, including Christmas presents and jewellery, from inside.

“We believe the incident took place between 2.15pm and 7.30pm that day.”

Anyone with information should call Chelmsford CID on 101 quoting crime reference 42/187836/18 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.