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Did missing woman's car go over cliff?
POLICE are linking their search for a missing Bridport woman with debris and tyre marks found at the top of Burton Cliff last week.
Divers and specialist equipment has been called in to help with a search of the sea at Burton Bradstock.
Witnesses initially reported debris and a damaged bollard at the top of the cliff on October 28, triggering a search by coastguards, but nothing was found.
It was not until the family of Victoria Mann, 26, filed a missing persons report a couple of days later that the two incidents were linked and the search stepped up. She was last seen in her blue Ford KA3 car, registration V938 PER, outside the King's Head pub at Bradpole at around 10.30pm on October 27 and is thought to have been heading to Burton Bradstock.
Dorset Police Western Division Chief Inspector Nick Maton said officers were keeping an open mind, although he said the two incidents were connected.
He said debris found at the clifftop was not enough to make a vehicle undriveable but it was not until reports that Victoria was last seen in a blue Ford car on the Saturday that the accident - and the debris - were seen from a different perspective.
He added that police did call the coastguard on the Sunday, who checked the base of the cliff and the sea where any vehicle going over the cliff would have been expected to be visible.
Chief Insp Maton said: "We are following two individual inquiries. One is a missing persons inquiry and the second is a possible fatal road traffic collision on the Cliff Road at Burton Bradstock.
"The two inquiries are obviously linked but we are still treating them separately and we would like to speak to anyone who might have seen Victoria."
Police accident investigators have examined the scene at the top of Cliff Road and found tyre marks to the edge of the cliff and more debris and oil from a car in the sea.
Since the middle of last week the search has involved the police marine unit, divers from Avon and Somerset, the police helicopter, coastguards and contractors working on the Napoli.
Divers have been conducting systematic underwater searches in pairs with a rope between them and the search will continue until at least today said Chief Insp Maton.
He added: "We intend to widen the search area and employ more sophisticated search equipment."
He said sonar searches had been unsuccessful and they would now be using detectors that could distinguish between metal and rock, as well as underwater robotic cameras.
Using tide predictions the search is being widened east of where the car is believed to have entered the water.
A friend of the missing woman, who asked not to be named, said vital time was lost from the time witnesses reported the car debris on the clifftop to the search starting three days later.
She said: "That bollard was smashed into hundreds of pieces and everyone was convinced that a car had gone over. The coastguards did look but then nothing happened until Wednesday.
"Now they are going over the sea with helicopters and using police divers and obviously it is an expensive search. Those few days were very valuable time lost. Who knows what it may have cost.
"If a car has gone over the cliff obviously that car had someone in it. The possibility of not finding it is very difficult for everyone concerned.
"The resources may run out before the search is finished and that would be a terrible situation to be in, especially for the family."
Anyone with information is asked to call police on (01305) 222222.