Body parts feared to be those of the missing British hiker Esther Dingley may have been dragged on to a walking path in the Pyrenees by animals, police have said.
French police are in the process of analysing what is suspected to be a human skull and at least one bone after they were discovered by a runner last week. It is a potentially significant breakthrough in a case that has baffled investigators.
Ms Dingley, 37, vanished during a solo trek in November. She had scaled Pico Salvaguardia, on the border between France and Spain, where she sent a selfie to her partner, Dan Colgate, ahead of what should have been a routine descent.
Her fate has remained unclear despite a major search effort by the French and Spanish authorities.
On Monday, a French investigator suggested that the spot where the remains had been discovered was probably not where the individual had died.
Commander Jean-Marc Bordinaro, who has been involved in the search from day one, told MailOnline: "This is indeed the area that Esther Dingley was supposed to be in when she disappeared, but we need to be cautious while the identification process is under way.
"Everything suggests that these bones were recently moved by animals. They would not have been there a few days earlier."
The mountain range is known to be home to wolves and brown bears, while vultures are regularly seen.
On Saturday, Ms Dingley’s mother, Ria Bryant, said she would give a DNA sample to French police as they carry out analysis on the bones. The skull, said to have long hair, was found alongside at least one identified bone.
There was no sign, however, of any of the clothes Ms Dingley was reported to have been wearing, nor her distinctive yellow tent and grey and red rucksack.
Police have asked Ms Bryant for her daughter’s dental records. "The dentist is sending a scan of Esther’s teeth," she told The Sunday Times. "We have to send it to the consulate in Bordeaux."
Ms Bryant uprooted her life to be close to the search effort for her daughter, moving into a house in Bagnères-de-Luchon in the French Pyrenees. She said "nothing" of her daughter’s belongings had been found, adding: "It’s upsetting that it’s not clear and definitive."