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Grandmother killed when landslide 'destroyed her home as she watched TV'

Published 07/11/2016

The collapsed flats in East Looe, Cornwall, where emergency crews found the body of Susan Norman, 68
The collapsed flats in East Looe, Cornwall, where emergency crews found the body of Susan Norman, 68

A grandmother died instantly when her home was engulfed by a landslide during torrential rain, an inquest has heard.

Susan Norman, 68, was killed when her ground-floor flat was destroyed by tonnes of mud and rubble that fell from a cliff behind her rented property in Looe, Cornwall, in the early hours of March 22 2013.

The mother-of-three was wearing pyjamas and was most likely watching the television when the landslide wrecked the two-storey house following 72 hours' rainfall.

In the days before the incident workmen had been carrying out repairs to a retaining wall behind Mrs Norman's home after it was reported to be bulging and was described as looking like a pregnant woman.

The jury heard Mrs Norman lived in a house on Sandplace Road called Veronica, which was split into three flats. She rented the ground floor flat, while Rowan Beckingham and Dwayne Bown lived in the two flats upstairs.

Mr Bown told Cornwall Coroner's Court there had been "torrential" rain the night before the landslide and was awoken at about 5am by loud bangs.

"I heard a few really loud bangs, so my immediate reaction was to get out of bed and see what was going on," he said.

"I went to the front of the flat and that's when the second bang came and the house jolted causing the floor to drop in front of me."

Mr Bown said he left the flat through the door at the rear of the house and climbed over mud, water and dirt to escape.

He could hear a television and banged on Mr Beckingham's door to try and raise him - not realising he was away.

Mr Beckingham, who moved in above Mrs Norman just a month before she died, told the inquest that work was being carried out in Sandplace Road to fix an earlier landslide.

"This building work would cause a slight shaking to our flat and it would make a cup of tea shake," he said.

"I saw about 20 yards up the road large cracks in the road, about 5ft long. Over the next month these cracks gradually got wider and wider.

"Me and my partner would often joke about how deep they were. I presumed the cracks were as a result of the landslip and the building machinery may have made it worse."

Mr Beckingham also described watching workmen pumping what he took to be concrete into the cliff.

He said: "I remember thinking at the time it was crazy putting concrete into a cliff if there was a problem with it. I remember seeing the foreman there so presumed they knew what they were doing."

Mrs Norman's daughter, Rachel Boden, said they saw in December 2012 a crack in the retaining wall and by January it was bulging.

"Mum did not notice but when I had a look at it again the bulge - I would described it like a pregnant lady - I didn't know how a wall could do that.

"I said to her, 'you best move your bed over to the other side as if the whole lot comes down it will hit your wall and end up with plaster all over you'... not the whole house would fall on top of her."

A post-mortem examination found Mrs Norman died as a result of crush injuries to the head and chest, which would have killed her almost instantaneously.

Earlier, assistant coroner Stephen Nicholls told the jury they would hear the water flow in the area had increased in the year before Mrs Norman's death because of a Barrett Homes development nearby and what the developer and council had done about it.

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

Press Association

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