Body found in car submerged for more than a week after Dorset landslide

 

One body has been found in a car which was buried in a tunnel entrance by a landslide and a second is believed to be still inside, police said today.

The grim discovery was made at Beaminster, Dorset, where two people are feared to have been buried in their car for more than a week following the collapse caused by heavy rain.

A man and a woman, who have not been named, were reported missing from the Avon and Somerset area by their concerned families.

Police inquiries traced the pair to the Beaminster area, near Dorchester, on July 7, which coincided with heavy rain and a landslide that closed the Beaminster Tunnel.

Excavations of the mud and debris by the fire service located a car at the entrance of the tunnel.

Assistant Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police told reporters at the scene: "We found at least one body inside, and suspect that among the mud, there is a second body inside the car."

Mr Vaughan said the tunnel collapsed on the evening of July 7, at a time of floods in west Dorset.

"There was a significant landslide here, when several hundred tons of mud, water, brick and trees fell in collapse at the edge of the tunnel."

The road was closed and the area searched, and at that time it was not suspected that there was anyone trapped in the landslide.

"It wasn't obvious in any way, shape or form that a vehicle was there."

The tunnel was closed, and remained so. "It's an unsafe structure and needs to be properly looked at by engineers."

Concerns had been growing in Somerset for a couple who had been reported missing.

"By the end of last week, those concerns were such that the police began scrutinising telephone records and their banking details, and it became clear that they had been in Beaminster on the weekend of July 7.

"Working with Dorset Fire and Rescue, Avon and Somerset Police undertook a number of inquiries.

"There were 150 flood warnings in the county at that time, 180 homes had been evacuated, and 400 incidents reported to the police control room. This was one of those incidents that was later investigated."

Mr Vaughan said that Dorset Fire and Rescue, county engineers and Dorset Police, working together, brought in heavy machinery yesterday evening and began to excavate some of the mud at the front of the tunnel.

"I can confirm that underneath that mud and that rubble, a vehicle was found that we linked to the couple that are missing from Somerset.

"The vehicle was crushed, the roof was completely flat, and we found at least one body inside, and suspect that among the mud, there is a second body inside the car.

"We have forensically recovered that vehicle to Weymouth police station, where specialist investigators will now take care and time to cut the vehicle open and recover, in a dignified manner, the bodies of these missing people we suspect to be the couple from Somerset.

"Members of the public may ask why it took 10 days to discover these bodies. I offer my condolence to the families of those that perished.

"It was a busy weekend, there are no obvious signs of a vehicle buried in the mud, there are several hundred tons of mud and rubble, and there are no reports of missing people in the area.

"The bridge had been secured safely, and it was only when concerns from Avon and Somerset Police were raised yesterday that we began to search, and the vehicle was discovered."

In a joint statement earlier, Dorset Police and Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said: "At approximately 6.30pm yesterday Dorset Fire and Rescue Service were contacted by Avon and Somerset Police regarding the partial collapse of Beaminster Tunnel.

"Crews were subsequently sent to investigate the area, and following a period of excavation discovered a vehicle under a large volume of earth and mud.

"At approximately 7.20pm yesterday, Dorset Police were advised that Dorset Fire and Rescue Service personnel had discovered a car under a large volume of earth outside the entrance of Beaminster Tunnel."

The A3066 road has been closed at the tunnel since the heavy flooding on July 6 and July 7.

It caused a landslide on the hill above the tunnel that fell on to the road and also caused some structural damage to the tunnel.

PA

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