Bungling thieves who stole £12,000 worth of antique stone slabs from a driveway were forced to abandon their haul on the M25 and flee after their transit van collapsed under the weight.

The fiasco has echoes of the Italian Job, except set in the Home Counties and with stone rather than gold.

Sharon Gould, 52, from Spindlewoods, Tadworth, was horrified to return home on September 21 to find 120 York stones, dating back to 1910, had been taken while she was out to lunch with her mother.

After the back-breaking work of digging up the stones and loading them onto their white Ford transit van the thieves must have thought that driving them away would be a doddle.

they had not reckoned on the impact of three tonnes of stone on a van.

As they drove down the M25 a tyre blew out and the suspension collapsed.

Forced to abandon the vehicle on the hard shoulder between the junctions 9 and 10, the two men were last seen running away into nearby fields after removing the vehicle's number plates in a bid to avoid being traced.

Police recovered the vehicle and stone on the same day but it took them a week to make the connection with Mrs Gould's missing driveway.

A delighted Mrs Gould, who had been told that replacing her driveway would cost at least £20,000, was reunited with her stones last Thursday, September 28.

She said: "They rang me up and asked for my name and said that they thought they had found my stones and that they wanted me to identify them.

"I couldn’t believe it.

"The weight of those stones - if they had had an accident God knows what could have happened.

"I’m elated but I’m still worried that they could come back.

"It has made me think that maybe I should get gates or more security for the house.

"I’m just feeling very pleased that I have got my stones back because it was such a specialist job and was going to cost thousands to replace them like for like.

"Now they can hopefully put the jigsaw back together."

Commonly used to pave patios and driveways, York stone is a sought after reclaimed commodity with original stone laid over 100 years ago particularly valuable.

One of the thieves was described as white, in his 20s with blond hair wearing and was wearing a light blue hooded top and dark jeans.

Anyone with information should contact Surrey Police on 101 quoting reference RB/11/8259.