POLICE and rescue teams searching for a missing County Durham man yesterday found a body close to where his abandoned car was found last week.

Michael Bell, 40, of Barnard Castle, was last seen on October 6, when he dropped off a friend.

Police became worried for his safety when his blue Renault Megane car was found by a cattle grid on a minor road between Barrass and Tan Hill, about 20 miles from Barnard Castle.

After a number of searches of the Ewebank Wood area last week, police recovered some of Mr Bell's personal possessions.

That led to a large-scale search of the area yesterday, which involved more than 80 volunteers from the North East Search and Rescue Association.

Rescue teams from as far away as Berwick, to the north, and Scarborough, to the south, joined teams from Teesdale, Weardale and Cumbria in the search.

A team from Northumberland found the body about 20 metres inside Ewebank Wood at about 2.30pm yesterday, after a seven-hour search.

Police said they could not say if the dead man was Mr Bell until a formal identification had been carried out.

They added that they had no reason to believe the man's death was suspicious.

The Tan Hill area is an exposed part of the Pennines, which falls between the three counties of North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Durham.

The area being scoured was about three miles from the Tan Hill Pub, the highest pub in England.

A Durham Police helicopter assisting in the search was called away at one point to pick up a member of a group of teenagers who were suffering from hypothermia.

Inspector Kevin Tuck, of Barnard Castle police, said: "We decided to conduct the search of the area, with the help of the volunteers, because we needed to make sure we had thoroughly exhausted the possibility of Mr Bell still being in the woods, before moving on to other lines of inquiry.

"I have to pay tribute to the mountain rescue teams that have come from all over the area to take part in this operation. It has been a very difficult search and, although they are trained and experienced individuals, this is still unpaid work.

"The terrain has been very difficult, it has been very dark in the wood, and in some cases, people have had to crawl on their hands and knees to make sure the whole area was covered."

Steve Owers, deputy team leader of the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Rescue team, said: "We concentrated our efforts on a plantation that was about a mile square.

"The area was on a bank, and it was hard going. It's very high up, and it gets very cold up here if you aren't prepared for it."

Insp Tuck confirmed that police were informing Mr Bell's family, who live in the area, of the news.

Mr Bell, who is unmarried and lives on the Winston Gate caravan park, works as a chef at the Teesdale restaurant, in Barnard Castle, and at a bakery shop in Crook.