Croxley Green residents were left shocked by the "disturbing news" that a 20ft-deep sinkhole had opened up in a back garden and that they needed to prepare to leave their homes.

Police evacuated a house and three flats due to the danger posed by the 5ft-by-5ft-wide hole, which appeared near a property in Dugdales yesterday evening.

Retired couple, David and Ann Hickson, who live next door to where the sinkhole was found, said they were left wondering "what on earth was going on" when police interrupted dinner.

Mrs Hickson said: "We were having dinner, so it must have been just after 6pm when the police knocked on our door. We didn’t know what on earth was going on.

"The police told us that there had been this happening and, just to be on the safe side, they were asking everybody in the building to vacate."

The couple left their flat last night and went to stay with their daughter, who lives nearby.

Mrs Hickson said that when they returned this morning, the owner of the property informed them that a surveyor had assessed the sinkhole and said it was safe to move back in.

Mrs Hickson added: "The police took our names and telephone numbers last night before we left and they said they would let us know.

"We haven’t heard anything from them but the owner of the house next door said a surveyor been round and said it was safe, but we’re still not 100 per cent sure what’s going on. We feel like we’ve been left in limbo."

Residents in neighbouring properties said they were visited by police at about 7.15pm and told to pack a bag in case they had to evacuate their homes at short-notice.

John Inwood was watching television with his wife when police knocked on their door informing them of the discovery.

Mr Inwood said: "We were told to have a bag ready in case we had to vacate. We’ve lived here for about 25 years and never known anything like this to happen before.

"You just don’t think of anything like this happening near to where you live. It’s disturbing news but I don’t know if we will hear anymore."

Mr Inwood said police officers were at the property overnight.

He added: "We’re not sure what’s going on now but it was reassuring to know that police were here in case something else happened."

National media film crews descended on the area this morning after similar stories about sinkholes appearing across the country emerged after weeks of heavy rain.