Hopes of finding missing Hilary Ball were fading yesterday as police continued to search the Sussex countryside.

The 53-year-old insurance worker left her home to go to work on Monday last week and has not been seen since.

Police were checking ponds and a scaled-down search was expected to continue over Christmas.

A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: "We are concentrating some of our efforts at ponds in the area in case Mrs Ball tripped and fell in."

Police praised members of the public who have helped in the search.

Ninety-two volunteers from the West Downs Neighbourhood Watch search team have spent eight days scouring the countryside near Mrs Ball's home in Horsted Keynes, Haywards Heath.

Mrs Ball's husband Geoff, a 46-year-old IT worker, has pleaded to his wife to get in touch and said her disappearance was out of character.

He was arrested on Tuesday night on suspicion of her murder and later released without charge.

Mrs Ball's blue Toyota was discovered close to Ashdown Forest Cricket Club, off Birch Grove Road.

Detectives want any walkers who were around Horsted Keynes ponds on the afternoon of Sunday, December 12, to contact them.

They also want to trace the owner of a dark grey car seen in the car park close to Ashdown Forest Cricket Club on the day Mrs Ball disappeared.

Anyone with information should contact the Operation Elphin incident room on 0845 6070999.