A couple have been left red-faced after their real-life cat burglars “bartered” for four pairs of shoes with one of their neighbours.

Cheeky cats Eric and Ernie have been stealing clothes, socks and even underwear from nearby homes as gifts for their owners, Margaret and Eddie Boddy, since they were kittens.

When the couple, of Marlborough Road, Braintree, were presented with four pairs of shoes, they contacted The Times last week in the hope of reuniting the items with their owners.

But they were shocked to discover that not only were the shoes all from the same house but their four-year-old cats had also apparently been “bartering” for their loot. Mr Boddy, 69, said: “We had an email from somebody who said they recognised the shoes from the piece in the paper.

“They knew stuff was going missing but couldn’t work out what was going on. They have a lean-to just outside the house where they keep their shoes and the cats were just going in and taking them.

“But the owners also kept finding pieces of fruit on their lawn - they found apples, a pomegranate, a banana and other bits. 

“The fruit is not going missing from our house so I don’t know where the cats were getting it from but it’s like they were doing a bit of bartering and exchanging the fruit for the shoes!

"It’s a bit embarrassing but luckily the owners thought it was quite funny to see their shoes in the paper."