Opportunist burglars broke into a Watford home and stole a safe less than 24 hours after the residents were forced out by the discovery of a four metre sink-hole. 

Penny Marriott and her daughter had to leave their house five weeks ago, and while they were staying at a friend's house, burglars broke in and stole her safe.

She said: "I was so shocked and terrified to find the hole. The weather had been bad all day and I had heard rustling but assumed it was the wind. I never expected to find the hole."

The sinkhole swallowed up a large work bench, a bike, several doors, an eight birth tent, car roof box and other bits and pieces.

Ms Marriott and her 16-year-old daughter Catherine were forced across the road while works took place.

The 53-year-old professional gardener said: "I went to bed on the first night in shock, I was shattered. I woke up later that night and went across the road to find the house had been burgled."

The thieves stole a safe - which was also in the sinkhole - containing sentimental jewellery and personal documents.

Ms Marriott continued: "What is annoying is I cannot pass the sentimental items onto my daughter. I find it amazing that these people broke in, clearly seeing the catastrophe I was already facing.

"The burglars risked their lives and limb for the safe, because the hole fell in even more the next day.

"I just want the sentimental items back and would appeal to anyone who knows anything to come forward.

"We have been lucky with the incredible support we have received. The whole experience has been draining, and has not come at a good time for my daughter who is set to sit her A-levels in a few weeks."

Police investigating the burglary are trying to trace a woman who found and handed Ms Marriott’s driving licence on February 10. The envelope that was handed in said it was found at Otterspool.

Detective constable Vishal Khanna is investigating, and said: "I am keen to speak with this lady to find out where she found this driving license as this information could prove vital as part of our investigation."

Anyone with information can contact DC Khanna on 101, quoting crime reference number C1/14/583, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.