A walker stumbled upon a human skull believed to belong to a man who disappeared 14 years ago.

Classroom assistant Karen Perez, 38, was walking with her partner and daughter in Hellingly Woods, near Hailsham, when she came across the skull.

Forensic tests have revealed it may be that of chronic schizophrenic Walter Denson, 71, of De Roos Road, Eastbourne, who vanished in August 1988.

Mother-of-two Mrs Perez, of Warwick Close, Hailsham, said: "I wasn't shocked or scared, just more than a little surprised when I found it.

"I looked closer and saw it was definitely a skull. It wasn't covered up at all. It took me by surprise but we just went home and called the police."

In 1952 Mr Denson had an operation called a leucotomy where two holes were drilled in his skull and part of his brain removed to reduce his anxiety.

Detectives revealed that the skull recovered off the main footpath had two holes, consistent with Mr Denson's surgery.

A specialist team was today carrying out a fingertip search across the area where the skull was found.

Detective Inspector David Oakley, of East Downs CID, said: "We are not treating this discovery as suspicious.

"We have checked our records and following close examination, it would appear the marks are consistent with his surgery.

"The extent of the weathering also suggests it has been laying outside for a number of years."

Police records revealed the enormity of the search for Mr Denson, who was known to go on long walks alone.

Helicopter and dog units were scrambled, while police divers dredged ponds and rivers.

Army cadets, residents and police teams also conducted extensive searches of woodland close to Hellingly Hospital, where he had been a day patient.

Officers received several sightings of a man matching his description in Eastbourne. However, he has never been found.

Mr Oakley said: "It may be 14 years on but it would seem that we could finally be near to closing this case."