An elderly woman accidentally threw her £12,000 life-savings into a wheelie bin.

The bundle of £50 notes, wrapped in a plastic bag, are now buried under hundreds of tons of rubbish at a landfill site.

A team of 14 binmen sifted through about 25 tons of waste after the woman's daughter raised the alarm but could not find the cash.

They closed the waste transfer facility in Chartwell Road, Lancing, for almost an hour on Tuesday to search for the missing money among the smelly rubbish.

After finding nothing, they contacted the woman's daughter again and discovered that the cash had in fact been chucked away the previous Wednesday.

That meant that it had already been taken from Lancing to the landfill site at Warnham, near Horsham.

Paul Willis, Worthing Borough Council's waste strategy manager, said the woman from the Tarring area was “clearly confused”.

He explained that rubbish was taken from the Lancing site to the landfill every day.

Mr Willis said that waste from across West Sussex went to the landfill site and that by now the £12,000 would be buried under hundreds of tons of rubbish.

He said the chances of finding it now were “zilch”.

Mr Willis also warned people tempted to go and search for the money that the landfill site was a dangerous place where large machinery operates and that it was closely guarded by security.

He said that refuse collectors in Worthing have searched for treasured photographs in the past but never to a call for such a substantial amount of money.

Ken Green, Worthing and Adur's head of recycling and waste management, said: “We can not even be sure that this money was even actually put into the bin or existed at all.

“But within ten minutes of getting the call our staff were looking through the rubbish to try and find it.

“It's a tragic thing to happen. Everybody was hoping that we would find it.

“I would like to say thanks to our contractor Viridor for its help with closing the transfer station while we looked.”

In July The Argus reported how 83-year-old Karl Heinz Albrecht said he lost his life savings of £7,000 on a number 46 bus.

The pensioner claimed he did not trust banks and carried the cash with him.