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Michael Rolfe tributes: Beaminster Tunnel landslide victim 'a gentleman'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 20, 2012

  • Beaminster Tunnel, pictured last week after the landslide

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A grandfather who lay undiscovered for 10 days when a car was entombed in a landslide has been described as a “gentleman”

Michael Rolfe, from Fivehead, near Taunton, was travelling with retired magistrate Rosemary Snell when their Skoda was flattened by hundreds of tons of falling mud in a tunnel in Dorset on a night of heavy flooding.

The couple, said to be romantically involved, had skipped coffee on a night out in Beaminster, Dorset, and tried to rush home to avoid bad weather when the tragedy happened on July 7. The road was closed but the rubble was not cleared, and their bodies lay undiscovered until Monday, despite Ms Snell’s neighbours raising the alarm.

Dorset Police said it was a busy night and there was no reason to suspect that a car was buried. They have now referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate, after they were criticised for their handling of the case.

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Mr Rolfe was a father of four in his 70s, who played bridge regularly but was described as a private person.

Louise Brister, who cleaned Mr Rolfe’s house, told The Times that he had two 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.”

The widowed grandfather, who worked in the medical profession before retiring, picked up the local newspaper every day from the nearby Crown pub.

Landlord Steve Chastell, 58, said: “He was very private, he was a gentleman.

“Not many people knew him, although he was a member of the bridge club, but other than that he didn’t get involved with much else, as I say, he was very private.”

Margret Wilson, 70, was a member of Fivehead Bridge Club with Mr Rolfe.

She said members were “upset and shocked” at the news.

“He was a widower, a nice chap, perfectly friendly but a fairly private man.

“He was something in the medical profession, but I don’t think he was a doctor, he was retired, obviously.”

The village of Misterton, near Crewkerne in Somerset, is still reeling at the death of popular resident Ms Snell, 67, a community-minded woman who was involved with the WI and village life.

She was described as well-educated and “effervescent”.

Yesterday it emerged that a landslide at the Horn Hill tunnel at Beaminster had claimed a life before, almost in the same spot.

Construction worker William Aplin was killed at the Beaminster side while building the structure in 1832.

In 2009, Dorset County Council cleaned up a memorial which had become obscured but lies at the mouth of the tunnel – a simple white cross painted onto a stone.

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Photos: The scene of the Beaminster Tunnel landslide tragedy

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