A TORTOISE cared for by an 81-year-old widow has become the centre of a bizarre “tug of love” battle, after it wandered out of her garden.

Big Tortoise and Little Tortoise belonged to Kit Allen’s husband Ray, a former Bexley mayor who died in December 2007.

He had looked after them for more than 25 years at the couple’s Barnehurst home and when he died, his widow took over their care.

A neighbour found the tortoise and unknowingly handed it to the RSPCA which rehomed it.

Now its new owner has refused point blank to give Little Tortoise up.

Meanwhile, Big Tortoise is pining for its companion and is refusing to eat.

Mrs Allen has written to the woman via the RSPCA and the charity has also beseeched her to give the tortoise back.

But she will not.

And the RSPCA says there is nothing it can legally do about it.

When Little Tortoise went missing, Mrs Allen said: “I knocked on all the neighbours’ doors asking if anyone had found it.

“I put notes through the doors and a notice in the local shop.”

Then Mrs Allen visited an adjoining road after realising several back gardens bordered hers.

And one houseowner had found a tortoise which they handed to the RSPCA.

Mrs Allen rang the charity and discovered the tortoise had been rehomed.

She said: “I asked if I could write a letter to the new owner, via the RSPCA explaining Little Tortoise had belonged to my husband and held such a lot of memories for me.

“Both tortoises used to come to the back door for my husband to feed them.

“Now Big Tortoise just wanders round and round the garden, looking for Little Tortoise and is barely eating anymore.”

Mrs Allen added: “I thought, once the new owner had heard the story behind Little Tortoise she would give it back.

“Now I don’t know what to do.

“Legally, she doesn’t have to give it back, but morally, she should.”

She said she has not given up her fight for Little Tortoise and would even be willing to pay.

Mrs Allen added: “I feel like I have let my husband down.”

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said it had been in extensive contact with the new owner, to persuade her to give up Little Tortoise.

She explained: “We have asked her to rehome two other tortoises in the past, which she has given back, when their original owners made contact with us.

“But this time she said no.

“We have visited her on several occasions trying to explain the strong emotional ties Mrs Allen has to the tortoise.

“We would very much like to see it back with Mrs Allen”

The spokeswoman added: “We have even offered her another tortoise, but she refuses and legally, she is perfectly entitled to.”

She said the RSPCA would continue its efforts to get Little Tortoise back.