The parents of missing architect Joanna Yeates were tonight said to be "very, very distressed" after the body of a young woman was found on a snow-covered verge.
The remains were discovered on a country lane on Christmas morning by a couple out walking their dogs three miles from where the 25-year-old was last seen alive eight days ago.
The scene on Longwood Lane, in the Failand area of North Somerset, close to Bristol and Clifton Golf Club, has been sealed off for forensic examination.
The body, which has not been formally identified, was clothed and covered in snow.
Chief Superintendent Jon Stratford, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "I can confirm that Joanna Yeates's parents have been informed of this development. They are naturally very, very distressed. Our thoughts are with them at this very difficult time."
Mr Stratford added: "I can confirm that at 9am this morning a couple walking their dogs found the body of what we believe to be a young woman on a roadside verge in Longwood Lane in the Failand area of North Somerset.
"The area has been cordoned off and crime scene investigators are currently examining the scene.
"A pathologist will be attending the scene to examine the body but we will not be in a position to conduct a full post mortem until tomorrow morning.
"At the current time it is far too early to be able to establish the identity of the body or the cause of death."
The Avon Fire Service is assisting police to remove the body from the scene in order to preserve the site for a thorough forensic examination.
A white tent was placed where the body was discovered and uniformed police officers were carrying out careful searches of nearby grass verges and woodland.
The last known sighting of Miss Yeates, known to her friends as Jo, was on CCTV as she bought a pizza at a branch of Tesco Express in the Clifton area of Bristol on the evening of December 17.
The university graduate, who worked as a landscape architect for BDP, was making her way home to the flat she shared with her boyfriend Greg Reardon after a night out with work colleagues in Bristol city centre.
Mr Reardon, 27, reported her missing on Sunday night after returning home to their flat in Canynge Road, Clifton, from a weekend away in Sheffield visiting family.
Miss Yeates' parents, David and Theresa, made two emotional television appeals for help in tracing their daughter and maintain she must have been abducted.
In one appeal a tearful Mr Yeates, 63, said: "Just let her go. If you have... if she is dead, then please tell somebody where she is. We want her back whatever."
He sobbed as he went on: "I was stood outside having a cigarette. It was cold. I was thinking my daughter, maybe she was out there by herself in the snow, frozen. It breaks me up. I want to be there to hold her."
Mrs Yeates, 58, added in a desperate plea to any abductor: "Just let her go. Let her go, let her come back to me and her dad and her family. Please."
They said their daughter and Mr Reardon had been due to visit their home in Ampfield, Hampshire, for Christmas.
Mr Yeates said: "Christmas is postponed as far as we are concerned. Everything is on hold and we can't celebrate anything.
"We want to think about Jo in our own way and hope and pray for her. If she's being held by someone, please let her go."
Mr Reardon, who had left for Sheffield before Miss Yeates returned from the pub, said on Wednesday: "I desperately want her back - I thought we would be together forever.
"She was my future. This Christmas was going to be our first together. I was going to spend it with her family, which is always a big deal for a boyfriend.
"We were both really happy in our jobs - we worked together and that's how we met."
Friends launched a campaign to find her by putting up posters across Bristol and setting up a website and a page on Facebook and using Twitter.
A message posted on the helpfindjo.wordpress.com website said: "There is currently NO CONFIRMATION on the identity of the body found in Longwood Lane, near Bristol.
"Please stay strong and supportive for Jo's family and boyfriend.
"This will be a terrible day no matter who the young lady is.
"Please save a thought/moment of silence before your Christmas meal for those who will not be having a merry Christmas."
On Facebook, a relative, Jacquie Yeates, wrote: "Please keep hoping. It hasn't been recognised as Jo yet ... and her pictures are everywhere.
"Still devastating but it HAS NOT BEEN RECOGNISED YET. Please keep praying and hoping."
The night Miss Yeates vanished she left the Ram pub in Park Street at about 8pm and as she made her way home she rang her best friend, Rebecca Scott, to arrange to meet on Christmas Eve..
She was caught on CCTV in a Waitrose supermarket at the Clifton Triangle and then went to the Tesco Express on Regent Street - a quarter of a mile from her flat.
Officers released footage of her buying a pizza in Tesco, which has become a key part of the investigation.
There was no trace of the pizza, the wrapping or the box in her home - despite the fact that the receipt, the coat she was wearing, and her mobile phone and keys were inside.
Thirty detectives are working full-time on the investigation and are being assisted by another 40 staff, including uniformed officers, forensic experts and search teams.
News of the grim discovery comes after detectives investigating Miss Yeates's disappearance began looking at similarities with the case of missing chef Claudia Lawrence, 35, from York.
It was confirmed that officers from Avon and Somerset had been in contact with North Yorkshire Police about their investigation.
Miss Yeates' disappearance also bears chilling similarities to that of Melanie Hall, who vanished after leaving a nightclub in nearby Bath, Somerset, in 1996.
Her remains were found dumped on the side of the M5 motorway in October last year - 13 years after she went missing.Reuse content