FELL race organisers have admitted they failed to sound the alarm for a runner who died in the hills – because they were not aware he was missing.

The body of Brian Belfield, 63, was discovered by moun-tain rescue teams the day after the 9.5 mile Buttermere Sailbeck race.

Mr Belfield, a painter and decorator, was one of around 150 runners who had set off in freezing rain and high winds to complete the gruelling event on Sunday afternoon.

However, the ‘fell veteran’ from Leek, Staffordshire, who had taken part in the race four times previously, never returned.

Marshals and organisers believed the last competitor had crossed the finish line at around 4pm. Four hours later – at 8pm – Mr Belfield’s wife called police from a Lake District guest house to report her husband missing.

A search was launched taking in the whole of the route which covered Ard Crags, Causey Pike, Sail, Crag Hill and Whiteless Pike.

Fifty volunteers from the Cockermouth and Keswick mountain rescue teams, along with search dogs and police, took part in an initial search which was postponed at 3am on Monday when conditions became too dark.

At 7am the search resumed with support from Penrith, Kirkby Stephen and Wasdale mountain rescue teams and an RAF helicopter.

Mr Belfield’s body was found at 9.45am off the race route on steep, rough ground and in a spot sheltered from the wind below Scar Crag.

Rescuers are unclear how Mr Belfield, who ran for the Staffs Moorland club, met his death but believe he could have fallen or may have been sheltering there from the wind and rain.

His death is one of just five fell running fatalities in the last 50 years.

Race organiser Mike Robinson, of Kendal, said he was ‘devastated’ and was helping police work out what happened.

He said marshals believed everyone had been accounted for at the end of the race.

“On Sunday, marshals waited at spots across the course until they thought everyone had come through.

“A runner told the marshals: ‘I’m the last one’. That was three hours after the race started.”

“Everything seemed to tally at the end of the race. The numbers of runners all seemed to add up.

“I was there until after 7pm. Some of the marshals had gone home, some were with me taking the tents down and having coffee.

“People were saying: ‘Great race’ and congratulating the marshals. The sad consequences will have to be looked at by people in the know.”

Mike Park, the leader of Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team, took part in the race on Sunday and, later that evening, joined the search for Mr Belfield.

He said: “Wind was gusting on the tops, with sleet and freezing rain.”

“The weather changed during the day, it was getting worse and became windier from 1pm onwards.”

However, he spoke of clear instructions being given to runners before the race.

“Everyone signed a declaration and race organisers gave a briefing at the start which mentioned the weather conditions.

“There was a kit list for the race which said you must have waterproof cover, a hat, gloves, map and compass, and there were kit checks carried out.”

This was backed up by race winner Morgan Donnelly, of Dufton, near Appleby, who said that there was a talk about kit requirements before the race started.

“We were all reminded about what we needed to carry,” he said.

The race is under the control of the Fell Runners Association which states in its handbook: “Each individual runner must be checked around the course in such a manner that if he becomes overdue at a control point the fact is known to race control.

“Since adequate timing of a call-out is often vital (literally sometimes a matter of life and death) it is often quite inadequate to wait until the completion of long races before an alert is raised.”

FRA Chairman Graham Breeze said although the weather on Sunday was challenging he had, himself, run in similar conditions.

“Fell running is a very safe sport,” he said. “Twice as many people have died in the London Marathon as in fell races.

“People know if you’ve a race of that length with that amount of climbing it is going to be challenging, and that is part of the reason people enjoy it.”

The last tragedy happened in 1994, when Judith Taylor, 45, of Blackburn, died after getting into trouble during the Kentmere Horseshoe Race, which also took place in poor weather. An inquest found she died of hypothermia.

Her husband Phil Taylor, of Ambleside, said it was up to runners to take responsibility for their actions on the fells.

The 65-year-old former member of Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team said: “It’s rare to be called out to the aid of fell runners – it is mostly amateur walkers who have problems in the Lake District.

“In the end everyone has to be self reliant.”

Mr Belfied’s wife was too upset to comment.

Staffs Moorland AC secretary Tony Rogers said: “Brian was one of our veteran fell-runners. He was fairly experienced in this type of running.”