Police in Scotland are digging up a carers' property as part of a search for a woman who has not been seen for 17 years.

The disappearance of Margaret Flemming, 36, in 1999 has only come to light when police officially declared her missing six weeks ago, when a new benefit claim was lodged in her name.

Officials from the Department for Work and Pensions visited her home to interview her over the payment of benefits, but called the police when they could not find her.

Now forensic investigators have taken soil samples from the grounds of her home in Seacroft Cottage in Inverkip, Renfrewshire, which she shared with her carers Edward Cairney and Avril Jones.

"We are carrying out tests on soil from the scene to establish if there are any human remains in the ground, or have been," said a police source, according to a report in the Daily Record.

"It's a complex operation which requires a lot of work, and specialist teams, to carry out.

"The grass has to be lifted before sections can be taken away and dug up. It's not something that is rushed. Samples are being sent away for DNA analysis."

Parts of the cottage, described as "vomit-inducing", have been demolished as part of the search for human remains.

Despite it being a missing persons investigation officers fear Fleming "may have come to some harm".

Investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Livingstone, said: "There is no evidence of any crime having been committed and Margaret's carers are still assisting us with our inquiries.

"They would ask Margaret who she was spending time with and she would say, 'That's private.'

"I have no evidence to contradict what the carers are telling us. There are people who do keep aspects of their lives private.

"The search continues but we haven't found anything in the garden so far. We're keeping an open mind."