Dorset landslide hid bodies of couple in car for 10 days

Vehicle was crushed under hundreds of tonnes of mud after flash floods

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The Independent Online

A couple have been found dead 10 days after being buried alive in their car when it was trapped inside a tunnel by a landslide.

Their vehicle was released from hundreds of tonnes of mud in a road tunnel near the town of Beaminster in Dorset yesterday, with police confirming they had found one body inside and expected to find another once the remaining earth was cleared.

"The vehicle was crushed, the roof was completely flat," said Assistant Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police.

Last night one of the victims was named locally as Rosemary Snell, 67, who reportedly moved home recently from Putney in London to the Somerset village of Misterton.

David Welsh, chairman of Misterton Parish Council, said Ms Snell was "tremendous company", while a neighbour added that the former London tour guide and active member of the Women's Institute "had a magnificent spirit".

The tunnel on the A3066 has been closed since the landslide on the hill above, caused by heavy rain and flash flooding on 6 and 7 July in which a month's average rainfall poured down in just 24 hours.

The collapse, which left the tunnel structurally damaged, was so severe that people took photographs of the dramatic scene without realising that a car lay buried beneath the mud. ACC Vaughan said it had shifted "several hundred tonnes of mud, water, brick and trees".

The families of Ms Snell and her companion had reported them missing last week, and gradually the police came to suspect what had happened. "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 7 July," explained ACC Vaughan.

"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."

The car was only uncovered after heavy machinery was brought in on Monday night. "It wasn't obvious in any way, shape or form that a vehicle was there," ACC Vaughan said.

The floods in Beaminster have been called the worst in decades, with so much rain that the River Brit inundated part of the town with water after it burst its banks. The tunnel is likely to remain closed until September.