DETECTIVES are not ruling out foul play in the death of Brit hiker Esther Dingley after her body was found in the Pyrenees mountains in France.
Police drones are continuing to scour the massive area as they hunt for clues after her bones were discovered more than eight months after she disappeared last November.
French cops confirmed that the 37-year-old’s death remains a mystery – and admitted that all theories remain on the table.
It comes as last week a skull with hair attached was discovered close to Port de la Gléré, a mountain pass near the border with Spain.
And heartbreakingly, yesterday DNA tests confirmed the bones are the only known remains of Esther.
« The enquiry is ongoing, and being led by a public prosecutor with the assistance of judicial police and gendarmes, » said a senior police source.
« There are still many questions to be answered, and that is why mountain searches are continuing.
« Foot patrols are in the area, and they are using drones to try and find further evidence connected with the case. »
This would include Ms Dingley’s personal equipment, such as a yellow tent and red-and-grey rucksack, said the source.
While a tragic accident is being prioritised by those leading the enquiry, other theories, including foul play, have not been dismissed, the source confirmed.
It is devastating beyond words
Ms Dingley went missing in the area around Port de la Gléré while on a solo walk, and her boyfriend, Dan Colegate, reported her missing on November 25.
At the time of her disappearance, she had been travelling around Europe for six years in a camper with Daniel.
This followed Ms Dingley sending a message three days earlier from the top of the Pic de Sauvegarde mountain.
Forensics officers at the Scientific Police Laboratory in Toulouse matched the skull with Ms Dingley after her mother, Ria Byrant, provided DNA, along with dental records.
The enquiry in France is now being led by Christophe Amunzateguy, the prosecutor of Saint-Gaudens.
He has been told by police colleagues that wild animals may have picked up the skull in a hidden gulley and transported it to the spot where it was found by Spanish hikers.
Brown bears and wolves are among the animals roaming freely in the Pyrenees, and birds of prey such as vultures are also a common sight.
« This is the most plausible hypothesis, » said Colonel Xavier Wargnier, one of the senior French officers involved in the search.
He confirmed that the skull was found at an altitude of 2,200 meters – but that it could also have been dislodged by melting snow.
« It could have hurtled down the mountain during the Spring thaw, » he said.
The search for Ms Dingley was called off from February because of worsening weather, before resuming in late April.
LBT Global, an organisation which supports searches for missing people, announced on Friday that Ms Dingley’s identity was confirmed through DNA testing after a skull was found close to her last known location.
Ms Dingley’s partner, Mr Colegate, and her mother, said in a joint statement that the discovery was « devastating beyond words ».
In the statement, they said: “We are distraught to report that we have received DNA confirmation that one of the bones found last week belongs to Esther.
“We have all known for many months that the chance we would get to hug our beloved Esther again, to feel her warm hand in ours, to see her beautiful smile and to watch the room light up again whenever she arrived was tiny, but with this confirmation that small hope has now faded.
« It is devastating beyond words.
“At this stage, with just a single bone found and no sign of equipment or clothing in the immediate area (which has been closely searched again over several days), the details of what happened and where still remain unknown. »