A Second World War veteran who was robbed of his life savings will be repaid in full thanks to an incredible community fundraising campaign.
After just two days, readers touched by the 91-year-old's story had recouped every penny stolen from him, with money pouring in from as far afield as New York.
By Tuesday (May 5), 407 well-wishers had donated £6,377 to the cause, with one anonymous donor giving £240 and many leaving heartfelt comments.
The great grandfather, of St Catherine’s Farm Court, Howletts Lane, Ruislip, said: “I just can't get over it. It's absolutely marvellous. It's unbelievable."
He added: “I nearly fainted when I found out what people were doing. I didn't know what to think.
"I'm nobody out of the ordinary, but after the events that have happened... blimey."
The fundraising webpage was the brainchild of Alan Palmer, administrator of the Facebook group Crime Awareness Group for the Ruislip & Eastcote Area.
He and others used the social media group, which has more than 5,600 members, to tirelessly spread the link to their GoFundMe page.
Mr Palmer, 59, of Parkfield Crescent, South Ruislip, said: “When the story broke, for me it was instantaneous – I thought, 'We've got to do something'. You can't just stand back in life all the time.”
He added: “I think it's outstanding what everyone's achieved. I've lived in Ruislip for most of my adult life and I think what's happened here is really unique.
“I think this shows that the area is crying out for things like this. People want to be part of the community. They want to help one another.”
As efforts intensified, shops in Eastcote and Ruislip set up collection tins and printed flyers to spread the message further.
Celebrities including actress Linda Robson – best known for playing Tracey Stubbs in the sitcom Birds of a Feather – and fundraising champion Gordon Hill – also known as the Wealdstone Raider – also donated.
Mr Lake's granddaughter, Sally Fitzgerald, a 37-year-old medical centre receptionist from Ruislip, said: “It's just so surreal. The whole week has just been amazing.
"It's happened so fast and everyone's support has been overwhelming. I just don't know how everyone can be so kind, just to take my granddad to their hearts like this.
“To have all his money back is just incredible, but the comments will touch our hearts forever. I just can't express my gratitude enough. It's just been amazing.”
Retired printer Mr Lake took part in the D-Day Landings in 1944 and received four medals for his service, after being knocked out by a mortar explosion in Falaise.
The money will be handed to him at a party in his honour, expected to be held at The Eastcote Royal British Legion Club, in Southbourne Gardens, Ruislip, at 5pm on Saturday (May 9) – a day after the anniversary of VE Day, marking 70 years since the end of the Second World War.
The details have not yet been finalised, but when they are supporters will be invited to the event through the crime awareness Facebook page.
Eastcote Royal British Legion branch chairman Jeff Duley, who visited Mr Lake after reading about the burglary, said: "This will be a demonstration of the esteem and the reverence he's regarded in.
"We want to stress to Lionel he's not on his own. There's people out there who do care."
Meanwhile, police investigating the burglary plan to have a whip-round at the station to help add to the fundraising total.
Officers have carried out forensic work and are pursuing various other lines of enquiry, including examining CCTV footage from Mr Lake's sheltered housing complex.
The thieves took £30 from Mr Lake's wallet and used a key from his pocket to open a cabinet containing £5,000 cash, which he had saved over many years to leave to his four children.
The burglary took place some time between 9pm on Thursday April 23 and 1am the next day.
Anyone with information should call police on 101. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.