Murder inquiry launched over woman's body on royal estate

Cold cases across country examined as police try to identify young victim found at Sandringham

Police have launched a murder inquiry after a woman's body was discovered in woodland just a mile from the entrance to Sandringham House in Norfolk, where the Queen and Prince Philip are staying. Detectives are examining cold case files nationally in an effort to identify her.

Detective Chief Inspector Jes Fry of Norfolk Constabulary would not comment on the age of the woman, or whether she had been found clothed. "How far back this investigation goes depends on what the experts say," he said. "We are looking at missing-persons reports nationwide as well as cases we have been working on more locally for potential links."

The body was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, where an autopsy was performed yesterday.

It was discovered by a dog walker shortly after 4pm on New Year's Day, about two miles west of the village of Anmer on the Sandringham Estate.

"It is the body of a female but I cannot comment on her age. I cannot confirm whether she was clothed because, at the moment, only my staff, the person who found the body and the person or people who put it there know that, and I would like it to stay that way.

"The body was found by a dog walker and was not underground. At this stage, we do not know who the victim is." DCI Fry said it was not yet clear whether the woman was killed at the scene or taken there after her death, but a spokesman for Norfolk Police said that it is "highly unlikely" the death was through natural causes.

Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, are also staying at Sandringham. The Queen was photographed out horse riding on Monday, the day after the body was found.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson refused to comment as it was "a matter for Norfolk Police".

Police removed the woman's body from the scene yesterday lunchtime. Forensic scientists were seen coming out of the wooded area where the body was found, carrying evidence bags. A large area of the woodland had been cordoned off. According to residents, the area where the remains were found is very quiet, and used only by dog walkers and people who work nearby. One Anmer resident said: "We were all aware of the police activity and normally in this area gossip travels fast. But at the moment, we know very little other than the fact a body has been found."

Sandringham has served as a private residence for the Royal Family since 1862. Around half of the estate is let to farm tenants, with much of the remainder used for forestry.

In October last year, it emerged that a man's remains had lain undiscovered on an island in St James's Park for around three years, just 200 metres from Buckingham Palace. The man was identified as an American, Robert James Moore, who had sent hundreds of letters to the Queen. A tree surgeon eventually discovered the body.