A happily married couple with Down’s Syndrome have defied stereotypes that romance and long-lasting love does not happen to people living with a disability.

Tommy Pilling, 59, and his wife Maryanne, 46, who live in Shoebury, are believed to be the world’s longest married couple living with Down’s Syndrome.

They were married 22 years ago at St Mary’s Church in Southend. They met when they were working in a kitchen at a learning centre for adults.

Maryanne said she has never forgotten the moment when she first saw Tommy. She said: “It was love at first sight. I had never been so happy in my life before. I thought he was very handsome and adorable.

“We went out for dinner on our first date and we were very happy. Tommy made a really good impression.”

Maryanne’s sister, Lindi Newman, 30, who works as a support worker, said she has never seen love so strong between two people.

She said: “Romance happens to everyone and they have proven it. Their love is just so pure and they’ve many supporters on Facebook. They have more than 35,000 followers from all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, China and America.

“Maryanne and Tommy are so kind and caring, they’re very well-loved by the community. Their love for each other is so innocent and pure.”

The couple has been living in Shoebury for all their lives, and they became worldwide celebrities after Tommy was involved in a distraction burglary two years ago.

Lindi said: “Tommy was at a local shop and he was talking to two people and then discovered his wallet had been stolen.

“My husband and I decided to set up a Facebook page for him so we could find the thieves. In about 24 hours we had more than 180,000 shares. The support was phenomenal, I received so many messages on my phone I thought it was going to explode.

“People asked if he was okay and if he managed to find his wallet. Later on, a man from Westcliff, who belonged in a bike gang, contacted me and offered to help us find the culprits.

“He printed out flyers and he managed to track them down and handed them over to the police.

“He also brought along his friends to visit Tommy because Tommy said he had never seen a motorbike gang before.

“It was very kind of him to assist Tommy.

“We didn’t know him at the time.

“He said he couldn’t stand to see someone vulnerable being targeted.”

Lindi said while the couple has had much support from the community, however, they have experienced bullying.

She said: “Maryanne was never bullied at school. But once when she and Tommy were walking in the street young children followed them into a shop and threw stones at them. Maryanne collapsed and suffered a breakdown. That was a long time ago.”

Lindi described the couple as thoughtful and caring towards their community too. She said: “When Tommy and Maryanne’s story made it to the national papers they were given some money.

“Instead, he donated it to help the homeless.”