Couple buried for 10 days as police blame 'a busy weekend’
A COUPLE who lay buried for 10 days after their car was caught in a landslide were not found sooner because it was a "busy weekend", police said.
The bodies of Rosemary Snell, 67, and a man in his seventies were found under tons of mud and earth at the entrance to a tunnel in Beaminster, Dorset, in south-west England.
Friends believe the couple could have survived if emergency services had got to them sooner. A senior police officer blamed the error on the high number of call-outs during the heavy rain and floods.
The bodies of Miss Snell and her friend, a retired hospital consultant believed to be called Mike, were only found after Avon and Somerset police set up a missing persons inquiry.
Searches of credit card details showed that Miss Snell, who lived about four miles from the tunnel in Misterton, Somerset, and her friend had been eating out in Beaminster on the evening of the landslide, Saturday July 7.
Police traced a route they were likely to have taken, the A3066, which led to the tunnel. They began excavating on Monday night and the couple’s car was removed yesterday with the bodies still inside, to allow the vehicle to be cut open “in a dignified manner”.
Friends and neighbours questioned why the couple had not been found sooner, with some suggesting police had not seemed interested when they were reported missing. Miss Snell failed to attend a lunch on Monday and later missed a dental appointment in London.
Miss Snell was reported to have been in a new relationship with the consultant. She had previously lived in Putney, south west London, where she was a tour guide. She was also a Women’s Institute stalwart who gave talks on the Tower of London. Ivor Herring, 66, a neighbour, said he last saw her on July 7 “happy and waving” in the passenger seat of a car.
On the day of the landslide, an initial assessment by highways officials and emergency services using a heat-seeking camera did not suggest any signs of life and the road was closed without any attempts to see if a vehicle was there.
Fire crews were hampered by a wall of water and mud continuing to cascade on to the road, and they decided they could not risk trying to dig beneath it.
A further assessment in the following days found that the structure of the tunnel entrance remained unstable, and the council decided to have “a few days of sitting back and having a look at what was going to happen”.
Asst Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police, who is leading the investigation into the deaths, said that no major search was carried out until it became known that the couple were in the area at the time of the landslide.
Cutting equipment was brought in and the crushed remains of the car were found under hundreds of tons of mud and rubble. Speaking at the scene, Mr Vaughan said: “It was not obvious in any shape or form that the vehicle was there. The tunnel was closed and it has remained closed for the rest of the 10 days. It was an unsafe structure.”
Tim Burden, 28, visited the tunnel the day after the landslide. He said: “It is quite harrowing to think two people lay trapped under it all. There were other people there who were taking pictures.
“Perhaps if there was a more rapid response from the emergency services they could have been found sooner.”
Mr Vaughan explained how busy police had been: “There were 150 flood warnings in the county at that time, 180 houses had to be evacuated and there were 400 incidents reported to police control room.
“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.”