A widower who spent Christmas Day searching for parts of a vandalised tree planted in memory of his wife has had it returned to him.

Retired police officer Ken Smith, 79, of Meadow Walk in Wanstead discovered the 6ft tree had been destroyed in a case of suspected vandalism on December 25.

And despite spending much of the day searching for the tree in Christchurch Green, Wanstead, Mr Smith eventually gave up hope of finding it.

A resident contacted police this morning after spotting the tree sticking out of a gated alleyway running between Dangan Road and Addison Road in Wanstead.

The police then contacted Mr Smith, who picked the tree up this morning.

He said: “I was absolutely delighted to find that someone had recognised the tree from the paper and got in touch.

“It is a relief to have it back, however I won’t be planting another tree in the park again after this.

“At the moment I have put the tree which was recovered in my front garden but I expect I will probably dispose of it soon.

“The reaction from the public was amazing – I had phone calls from people telling me how sorry they were about what had happened.

“One man visited the tree before the incident and took a photo of his son next to it as they had been so impressed.”

Mr Smith chose to plant the memorial tree on Christchurch Green in memory of his wife Josephine, who regularly visited the park. Mrs Smith lost her battle against cancer in January 2011.

“Someone had obviously chucked it over the gate of this dirty alleyway as it is locked shut and it couldn’t have just blown into there,” said Mr Smith.

“I am just grateful for the response I have had and to have it back.”