A BRAZEN thief stole a pensioner's wedding and eternity rings while she lay seriously ill in her hospital bed.
Bridget Coughlan, 70, had been given the diamond bands by her late husband.
But while she lay half-conscious at Croydon University Hospital someone forced them off the Kenley resident's arthritic fingers. Mrs Coughlan, a former Nestlé employee and charity worker, died never knowing her beloved rings had been taken.
Now Linda Davies, one of her closest friends, is appealing for help in her bid to reunite the rings with her family.
"Bridget absolutely loved those rings," said Ms Davies. "She would have been devastated to know they had been stolen.
"She used to say her wedding ring reflected her mood – if she was sparkling then it would sparkle. She would have felt as if she had lost a part of herself."
Mrs Coughlan was wearing the rings when she collapsed after suffering a fit at her home in Welcomes Road on November 30.
After being taken to Croydon University Hospital she had a second fit and was admitted to Heathfield 2 ward.
Ms Davies, 53, visited her twice a day. On the afternoon of November 7 or 8 she noticed her friend's wedding and eternity rings were missing. The thief ignored a third, plainer, ring on the same finger.
"Her hand was out from underneath the sheet and two of her rings were gone," she told the Advertiser.
"I could see there was an impression on her fingers where the rings had been. She suffered from arthritis so her fingers and joints were quite swollen. Whoever did this had to physically pull them – they wouldn't have slipped off.
"To do that to someone who is clearly in a weakened state is such a violation.
"She was very weak and couldn't drink without a straw. She was not unconscious but was very out of it. In terms of being absolutely vulnerable – she was.
"Whether it was a hospital worker of a visitor, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the only people who went to see her were with me or one of her brothers."
Ms Davies reported the theft to the hospital and the police but the rings have yet to be recovered.
They were given to Mrs Coughlan by her late husband and had deep sentimental value.
After he suffered brain damage following a road accident in the 1960s, Mrs Coughlan became her husband's carer, while raising their young son and working as a purchasing manager for Nestlé in Croydon.
In her spare time she was a keen golfer and became friends with Ms Davies after meeting at Purley Downs Golf Course.
Mrs Coughlan was also a popular socialite and, after her retirement, worked for a charity Grandparents Plus.
She never recovered from developing aspiration pneumonia after being admitted to hospital.
One of the rings is described as a platinum set single stone diamond ring, with three small diamonds on each shoulder.
The other ring is described as a white gold nine-stone diamond half-eternity ring.
Detective Constable Lucy Brookshaw, from Croydon CID, is investigating the theft.
"If the rings have been stolen as we suspect, then it is likely the thief will have tried to sell them on, so we are hoping somebody might have seen them," she said.
Anyone with information should contact police on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, quoting DC Brookshaw's name.