POLICE have confirmed that a body found hidden under branches in North Yorkshire woodland is that of missing Joanne Nelson.

The 22-year-old's body was identified by her grieving family yesterday afternoon, after the tragic discovery a mile north of Brandsby, near Easingwold, on Thursday.

A post mortem examination revealed the cause of death was "manual strangulation".

As residents in the quiet village spoke of their shock at the find, Miss Nelson's parents, Charlie and Jean Nelson, said they were "relieved" to get their "darling daughter" back.

A brief statement thanked family, friends, police, and everyone who helped and gave information during the lengthy search, for their support.

They said they now wanted to come to terms with the news and "grieve alone as a family".

The disappearance of the Jobcentre worker on St Valentine's Day triggered a massive hunt across countryside in East and North Yorkshire.

Detective Superintendent Ray Higgins, leading the inquiry, also spoke of his relief for the family. "There are many other emotions involved, but this is a private time during which the family and their friends must be allowed to come to terms with these events."

He thanked everyone who had helped scour the north-east of England for the missing Hull woman over the last few weeks, often in dreadful weather conditions.

As reported in yesterday's Evening Press, the tragic discovery was made on Thursday afternoon, after Det Supt Higgins and a colleague spotted a distinctive gate, fitting the description of one police had been looking for.

Det Supt Higgins revealed that the area where Joanne was found had been due to be searched tomorrow, adding he "went for a walk" off the B1363 when he realised it could provide a breakthrough. He said evidence had built up which pointed police towards North Yorkshire.

He added: "When my colleague Detective Phil Gadd and I passed the gate on the way back from meeting colleagues, we realised straight away the parameters we were looking for appeared to be satisfied.

"So we went for a walk. The rest is history."

Meanwhile, Brandsby residents spoke about their shock.

Lindsey Hodgson, of Ebor Stores, said: "Everyone is shocked that they have found her here. But I'm glad for the family that they have found her. At least they now know where she is."

Miss Nelson's fianc, Paul Dyson, 30, from Hotham Road North, Hull, has been charged with her murder.

Updated: 10:02 Saturday, March 26, 2005