TRIBUTES have been pouring in for the tragic couple killed in the Beaminster Tunnel tragedy.

But questions are also being asked as to why it took so long to discover the bodies.

Retired surgeon Michael Rolfe, of Fivehead near Taunton, died with his new partner Rosemary Snell, from Misterton, in their car when it was buried under tonnes of mud and rubble.

The bodies of Mr Rolfe, who was in his 70s, and Mrs Snell, 67, were not recovered for ten days because the emergency services believed no vehicles were buried under the mud.

They were found only when officers with Avon and Somerset Police traced the pair’s banking transactions and asked Dorset Police to search through the debris.

The landslide occurred on Saturday, July 7, as the couple returned from a meal in Beaminster and it was not until Monday evening that their bodies were discovered.

Friend Donald Hargreaves, who lives in Beaminster, met Mr Rolfe when they worked in Oman around 15 years ago and said he was a great friend.

He said: “He was a very nice chap and had a great sense of humour.

“Mike was a big rugby fan and visited us a few times, so it was an absolute shock when we found out and a terrible end.”

Villagers in Fivehead have reacted with shock to news of the death of Mr Rolfe, who played bridge regularly, and was involved in several clubs and societies.

Louise Brister, who cleaned Mr Rolfe’s house in Silver Street once a week, said he had two grown-up sons and two daughters, and had recently become a grandfather again.

She said: “He was such a nice, caring guy who moved here after his wife, Lynne, died of cancer a few years ago.

“He was always laughing, so bright and cheerful, and had only recently met Rosemary Snell.

“He loved his bridge and was keen on cricket.

“I’m in shock and can’t believe it.”

“He’d have a social chat, but was a very private man and never talked about himself – he was a questioner rather than an answerer.

“He was a gentleman, very well educated, very polite and well-mannered – a happy, smiley chap.”

Neighbour Kathryn Rowland, said: “He was a pleasant man, but kept himself to himself. He liked his jazz music – you could always hear it from his garden.”

Rosemary Snell was an active member of the local WI and a keen volunteer in the village of Misterton near Crewkerne.

Ron Bond, a councillor at Crewkerne Town Council, said he was baffled as to how her body could have lain undiscovered for 10 days.

He said: “I am absolutely disgusted with what has gone on.

“I can’t understand how nobody there looked to see if there was anyone in there.

“We don’t know what the facts are here and have to be careful.

“But on the face of it, it seems outrageous that somebody was in there for so long.

“I know that firefighters have to be careful for their own safety but it is just so awful.

“She was a very nice lady and full of life. It is such a tragedy.”

Rosemary Prince, who volunteered alongside Mrs Snell, said: “The fact that she must have been there 10 days. Nobody had thought of looking.

“You’d think somebody would have looked through what was in the tunnel and made some inquiries.”

Another fellow volunteer, Tim Udall, said: “It is a tremendous shock because she was such a well-known person in this community.

“She was one of those people we knew would benefit us and the community for a long time to come because of her knowledge and her outgoing personality.”

A spokesman for the WI said: “Rosemary came to Misterton a few of years ago and from day one was active in the village.

“Rosemary will be best remembered first as a very dear friend to many, her outgoing and bubbly personality and her consummate desire to help the organisations she was involved with.

“She will be greatly missed by all who knew her and leaves a legacy of very happy memories.”

‘No signs of life’ after huge mudslip

Firefighters attended the scene of the landslide on July 7 and used thermal imaging equipment to check for signs of life in the mud.

But with no reports of anyone missing in the area no further checks were made until Avon and Somerset police asked for assistance after retracing he movements of the couple on the fateful night. Dorset Police are leading the response on behalf of the emergency services.

But they did not respond yesterday to questions on whether there would be an inquiry into the incident.

A spokeswoman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service referred all inquiries to Dorset Police.

A police statement said: “Police can confirm that the bodies of a man and a woman have been recovered from the vehicle that had been buried in the Beaminster Tunnel landslide.

“Officers are appealing for anyone who may have seen the victim’s silver coloured Skoda motor car being driven on the A3066 from Beaminster village centre to Beaminster Tunnel between 9.30pm and 10.30pm on Saturday, July 7.

“This was the recent day of very heavy rainfall throughout Dorset.”