Yeates inquiry hit by delays to autopsy and witness hunt

  • @robhastings

Police expect to finally reveal later today how the missing Bristol landscape architect, Joanna Yeates, died, following delays to the investigation caused by the bitterly cold weather and the movement of potential witnesses over the Christmas period.

Officers had hoped to disclose the cause of the 25-year-old's death yesterday evening, but delays to the post-mortem examination – which has been made more difficult by the frozen state in which her body was found – have subsequently slowed the rest of the investigation.

Police are treating Ms Yeates's death as suspicious and looking into the possibility that she had been abducted. They said the result of the post-mortem examination is key, as it would indicate when she died and therefore help officers scouring CCTV footage of the local area to focus on specific dates.

Cameras on the Clifton Suspension Bridge could prove particularly important, because it is the only direct route between Ms Yeates's flat in Clifton and the location where her body was found.

Efforts to find potential witnesses or leads have been hampered by the Christmas holidays. Chief Superintendent Jon Stratford said that although house-to-house enquiries have now been made, the absence of many neighbours and local residents – who have been away for the holidays – has meant the process has taken longer than usual.

Yesterday Ms Yeates's parents, David and Theresa, confirmed that it was their daughter's body found on Christmas Day at a secluded patch of land near Long Ashton Golf Club, three miles from her house. They later visited the scene, where they laid a bouquet of yellow roses before being joined by her brother, Chris, and boyfriend Greg Reardon, who also left flowers at the spot.

Ms Yeates vanished on 17 December after leaving a pub on Park Street in Bristol, where she had been drinking with work colleagues. She went to two supermarkets and bought a pizza from the second. It is understood that she also visited a third shop and bought cider. She was reported missing two days later by her boyfriend after he returned home from a family gathering in Sheffield. He found some of Ms Yeates's possessions – including her mobile phone, keys and coat – at the flat.

Police sources have downplayed a suggestion that she may have been dumped alive at the scene and died of hypothermia. But they admit there are many baffling aspects to the case.

A sense of shock continues to linger over the well-heeled suburb of Clifton. Alex Major, the landlord of the Bristol Ram pub where Ms Yeates had been drinking with work colleagues before making her way home and stopping at a Tesco Express to buy a pizza on the night of her disappearance, said that she was well known to bar staff.

"Her company comes in here three or four times a week and she would come in every Friday. We knew her and her boyfriend," he said. "We didn't see her leave on the night itself because it was so busy.

"If she had stayed for one more drink, or if she had left earlier, maybe this would not have happened or might have happened to someone else – who knows? People have been asking about her and it is a big shock. Clifton is a very close-knit community, even though it is part of a big city."

Canynge Road, where Ms Yeates lived in the basement flat of a large townhouse next to the sports field of the nearby Clifton College, is quiet at all times of year, according to local residents. With most pupils of the private school having left their boarding accommodation for their holidays, the area is even more hushed than usual and police say that those who remain are "understandably a little bit jumpy".