THE BODY of an elderly woman has been discovered at a Bournemouth flat, six years after she is believed to have died.
On Tuesday the “mummified” body of a woman in her 70s was found inside a ground-floor flat in Tolpuddle Gardens in Throop.
The grim discovery was made after bailiffs gained entry to the property to recover unpaid debts.
Shocked neighbours said they thought the pensioner, named locally as Anne Leitrim, had moved away around six years ago and the flat, which backs onto the communal garden, appeared to be empty.
John Stanley, who has lived in the building for the past eight years, said: “Everyone's so shocked. We didn't think anyone was living there. Her car went and we just thought she had moved out.
“There are cobwebs in the windows and we used to joke there could be a body inside but we had no idea.”
Mr Stanley said bailiffs and locksmiths came to the flat on Tuesday morning and entered the property via two windows that had been left ajar.
“The windows were slightly open and they used a coat hanger to get inside,” he said.
“The locksmith went in and said 'I think there's a body'. It was so decomposed he couldn't tell.”
The 55-year-old entered the flat in an attempt to help identify the body, which was found in a “mummified state”, Mr Stanley said.
He recalled Ms Leitrim to be a friendly woman who spoke with a Scottish accent.
He said: “I only spoke to her two or three times. She kept herself to herself but she was always very smart. She was friendly and would say hello.”
Ruth Evans, who has lived in the building for the past six years, said she felt guilty no one realised what had happened.
The 59-year-old said: “I couldn't sleep last night at all. It makes me feel guilty. You think of all the times we were out in the garden and she was just lying there.
“When her car disappeared we all thought she had moved away. When the chap said there was a body inside I couldn't believe it.”
Debbie Small, who has lived in the street for two years, said everyone had been left shocked by the news.
“It's really sad,” she said.
“We are all quite close on this side of the street but we don't often see people in the flats. It's a really friendly street and we all know each other. I can't believe it.”
A spokesman from Dorset Police said the death is not being treated as suspicious.
The tragic discovery echoes the death of 59-year-old Robert White from Poole.
In February 2012, Mr White's remains were discovered at his tower block home in Drake Court in Lagland Street,18 months after he was last seen.
The father-of-seven's body, which was discovered by his estranged wife, was so badly decomposed he had to be identified by his fingerprints. An inquest heard it was impossible to determine how he died.
SO MANY LIVING ALONE
MORE THAN half of 75-year-olds in the UK live alone and one in ten suffers “intense” loneliness but is reluctant to ask for help, a poll conducted by the charity The Silver Line has revealed.
Last year TV presenter Esther Rantzen set-up the free phoneline for older people in a bid to help tackle loneliness in the over-75s.
Describing this instance as a “sad and shocking case”, a spokesman for the charity urged any older person who feels isolated to pick up the phone. She said: “The Silver Line is available throughout the UK and is open 24 hours, every day and night of the year.
“We never close, so any older person who is feeling isolated or lonely is always welcome to call us on 0800 4 70 80 90 – the helpline is free and confidential, and staffed by people who are really interested in having a good chat.”
The helpline received more than 100,000 calls in its first six months.