A stolen honour presented to an estate agent by the Queen a year ago has been returned by an army veteran who bought it from a Bournemouth pawn shop.

Julia Quilliam, who owns Quilliam Property Service in Brentford High Street, was devastated when thieves broke into her office in August and stole the British Empire Medal she had received for services to the community in last year’s New Year’s Honours list.

All too often that is the end of the story, but little did she know just 100 miles away down the M3 motorway her beloved medal was up for sale.

In an extraordinary twist of fate, former army man Paul Skinner, who lives in Bournemouth, was walking past a pawn shop in his home town when he spotted a medal glinting at him. He went in and bought it then looked Ms Quilliam up on the internet after seeing her name on the edge.

He got in touch with her and sent it back, cleaned and polished. “I collect old army medals so it just caught my eye in the window,” he said. “It was a bit of a dubious looking shop and the man had no idea what it was or how much it was worth. After unsuccessfully looking it up on eBay he sold it to me and as I walked out I realised it had a name on it.

“Outside, another man who had been in the shop, offered me a fair amount of money for it but I knew it was somebody’s so I wouldn’t have sold it for anything. When I got home I Googled Julia and called her office. I asked her colleague if there had been a break-in and they told me there had – so I knew she was the right person.”

Mr Skinner then took the medal to a regimental tailor who cleaned and polished it.

He said: “It was absolutely filthy and I didn’t want Julia to feel it hadn’t been taken care of, I wanted her to feel like she hadn’t had it stolen so I got it cleaned up.”

He spoke to Ms Quilliam’s brother who told him their other brother, who was in the RAF, had been killed in Afghanistan a few years ago.

When the medal was posted back to her, Ms Quilliam insisted she paid him back for all his troubles but Mr Skinner refused and said it was in honour of her brother.

“I did it in memory of her brother and I hope that if somebody found one of my medals they would do the same thing for me.”

Julia Quilliam's British Empire Medal
Julia Quilliam's British Empire Medal
 

Ms Quilliam said she is so thrilled to have it back. “I was so touched and really emotional when he got in touch, and he also refused to let me pay. The fact he had it cleaned and wouldn’t let me pay because it was in memory of my brother was just amazing. I can’t believe I’ve got it back.”

Mr Skinner refused to reveal how much he paid for the medal, saying it was just important it was returned to its rightful owner.

Police investigated the theft at the time it happened in August but to date no one has been prosecuted in connection with the break-in.