Body in woods is student Sally Geeson

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The parents of the missing student Sally Geeson spoke last night of their heartbreak after police confirmed yesterday that a body discovered in woodland near Cambridge was that of the 22-year-old.

Police said her body had been found naked, while a post-mortem examination concluded she died of asphyxiation.

Miss Geeson disappeared on New Year's Eve after a night out in the pub with friends. It is believed she got into a car with a stranger, from where she sent a distressing series of text messages to her friends pleading for help.

Yesterday the worst fears of her family, who said they had been "living through hell", were confirmed when her body was identified at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge by her father.

Her family, who come from Southend, Essex, had made an appeal for information shortly before her body was found.

A statement from Miss Geeson's parents, Sue, 46, and Laurence Geeson, 51, yesterday said they were "simply devastated by the news that their daughter had been murdered".

It added: "Our beautiful daughter has been taken from us and words cannot begin to express our heartache at this time. Sally was a wonderful and loving daughter, sister and friend and we are simply devastated."

Detective Superintendent Garry Swain said: "A post-mortem examination has shown that Sally died as a result of asphyxia.

"Further forensic tests are being conducted to establish whether or not Sally had been subjected to a sexual assault."

Cambridgeshire police added yesterday that the forensic science student's body was naked when it was found on Friday in a small copse in Madingley.

Miss Geeson, who was in her final year at Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge, vanished at around 1.30am on New Year's Day after celebrating the start of 2005 at the Avery pub in central Cambridge.

Her body was discovered by a man out walking on Friday near a Second World War American military cemetery at Madingley.

Miss Geeson, who shared a student house with friends about two miles from the pub, was in the Avery at midnight and had bought chips from a nearby takeaway at around 1am.

Police have scrutinised closed-circuit television footage taken in Cambridge on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in an attempt to find clues to her murderer. Her identical twin Julie had posed for photographs outside the Avery pub in the hope of jogging the memory of potential witnesses.

The student also had a younger sister, Nicola, 19.

Her friends, who have also put up posters around the town, received a distressing series of text messages from Miss Geeson shortly after she disappeared which said she had got into a car with someone and needed help.

Yesterday at the Avery, a photocopied picture of Sally Geeson was still pinned up, appealing for information.

Micah Newcombe, 23, the assistant manager, said the murder was particularly traumatic for many of the staff at the pub who knew Miss Geeson. They included one of her housemates who has been too upset to work since her friend's disappearance. Mr Newcombe said Miss Geeson had seemed "fairly sober" on New Year's Eve and was not a "naive sort of person".

Police said yesterday they are pursuing an "active" investigation and appealing for any witnesses who may be able to help find her killer.