SUNNY Smith was on top of the world when her boyfriend of two-and-a-half years proposed on Christmas Eve.

But less than 24-hours-later her joy turned to despair when she realised her beautiful engagement ring had slipped from her finger while tending to the family’s horse in Sunniside, near Tow Law.

Instead of spending Christmas Day sharing their happy news, Miss Smith, 24, and her fiancé, Andrew Horner, 26, endured hours of painstakingly searching through hay.

“It really was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said Miss Smith, who grew up in Oakenshaw, near Willington, but now lives with Mr Horner in Morpeth.

“We were very worried,” said Mr Horner, a paralegal. “I’d worked a lot of overtime to be able to afford the ring I wanted. I knew Sunny wouldn’t want anything too showy but it had to be special. This one was perfect.”

Seeing how distressed her daughter and future son-in-law were, Miss Smith’s mother, Louise Watson put out an appeal for help on the popular Facebook page Weardale Noticeboard.

“I thought there might be someone out there with a metal detector who could help,” she said.

Graham Duff, a fork lift truck driver and metal detecting enthusiast from nearby Willington, was keen to help.

Despite suffering from prostate cancer and being in the midst of an intensive course of radiotherapy, he and his fiancée, Sue Jewitt, arranged to meet the couple at the stables on Boxing Day.

Within five minutes, Mr Duff, who did not tell the family about his illness until afterwards, had located the ring using his Laser Rapier detector.

“I was happy to help,” he said. “It was worth it to see their reaction.”

Miss Smith, an animal keeper, said: “We are so grateful. It's amazing what he did.”

Ms Watson added: “What a hero, thank you so much Graham, you saved Christmas for us.”

However, Mr Duff’s work was not yet done. For two days later, the 52-year-old and his trusty metal detector were in demand again. This time, it was to assist Paul Newton who had lost his wedding ring while feeding the chickens at his home in Westgate in Weardale. With his 25th wedding anniversary approaching, Mr Newton was desperate to find the ring but his search had so far proven fruitless.

Luckily, his wife, Helen Newton, 52, had read about Mr Duff’s success on Facebook and asked if he could help them too. Once again, Mr Duff came to the rescue and found the ring within minutes.

Mr Newton, 58, said: “I normally wear gloves but I didn't that day and my fingers must have shrunk from the cold. I wasn’t looking forward to telling Helen, especially with our wedding anniversary coming up. We are planning to go on safari in Tanzania which is where we went on our honeymoon.”

He jokingly added: “Graham has got me out of a lot of trouble.”

Mr Duff was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012. He was given the all clear but the cancer returned earlier this year. His radiotherapy treatment comes to an end this month and he and Ms Jewitt plan to get married in April.

Ms Jewitt, 62, said: “This has given Graham such a lift. He’s been so down and is in so much pain. When we went out to look for the rings he was buzzing, it was lovely to see him like that again. They are the only times he has been out since he started his treatment.”