By Hayley Pugh

A Down’s Syndrome couple, thought to be the first get married, have proven doubters wrong after 22 years of wedded bliss and a huge Facebook following of people inspired by their heartwarming story.

Maryanne and Tommy Pilling first met at a day centre in Southend in 1990 and were instantly besotted with each other.

The pair dated for around 18 months before Tommy popped the question and despite criticism, the couple went on to tie the knot at St Mary’s Church in Shoeburyness in July 1995.

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Now, 27 years later, Maryanne, 45 and Tommy, 59 are still going strong and a Facebook page, set up by Maryanne’s sister, Lindi Newman, which follows the couple’s romance, has racked up thousands of followers.

Lindi said: “The day Maryanne met Tommy she came home with the biggest smile on her face. She couldn’t stop talking about him and asked if he could come for dinner.

“They dated for about 18 months and then he approached my mum, Linda, to ask if he could propose. He had a toy ring from a vending machine.

“My mum immediately said yes but wanted them to do it properly so took him to a jewellery shop to buy a proper ring.

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“She received a lot of flak at the time for letting them get married but she insisted it was their decision.

“Maryanne had dreamed about a big white wedding since she was a little girl and that’s exactly what she had. It was a beautiful day.

“When they walk down the street holding hands they make a statement but in a good way.

“Some people stare, they assume people with Down’s Syndrome and learning difficulties can’t get married.

“But we also get so many lovely lovely messages from people who are inspired by their story.

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“People worried about their own children or grandchildren with Down’s Syndrome get hope from Maryanne and Tommy’s story.

“Hope that their children can also fall in love and live happily ever after.”

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Maryanne added: “My wedding was the best day of my life. I was shocked when Tommy proposed but I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes.

“Tommy and I never argue. I love my husband very much. He is my best friend.”

The happy couple lives independently, with family next door to help out when needed.