Police investigating the death of British hiker Esther Dingley have not ruled out foul play, it has been claimed.
Human remains - including a skull - were yesterday confirmed to belong to the tragic 37-year-old as detectives continue their enquiries.
The Oxford graduate had disappeared last November while out on a solo trek through the Pyrenees mountains before her bones were found earlier this month.
And as drones and police patrols scour the area close to Port de la Glere, on France’s border with Spain, police officers leading the case reportedly say nothing is off the table at this stage.
"The enquiry is ongoing, and being led by a public prosecutor with the assistance of judicial police and gendarmes," a senior police source told The Sun.
"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."
The theory that Ms Dingley died via a tragic accident are being prioritised but the possibility of foul play has not yet been dismissed, the source added.
The hiker's personal equipment, including her yellow tent and red-and-grey rucksack, are yet to be found.
Ms Dingley was last seen on November 22 and her partner Dan reported her missing on November 25.
He had not heard from her since she sent 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 found last Friday with Ms Dingley after her mother, Ria Byrant, provided DNA, along with dental records.
Image:ESTHER & DAN via REUTERS)
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 (7218ft) but that it could also have been dislodged by melting snow.
He said: "It could have hurtled down the mountain during the Spring thaw."
The search for Esther 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".