A BODY located by a police helicopter searching for post office raiders has been confirmed as missing mental patient Julie Sams.

The 54-year-old, from Cockfield, in Teesdale, had not been seen since she left the Goodall Psychiatric Unit, in Walker Drive, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on May 27.

Mrs Sams, the mother of a grown-up son, had suffered from depression for a number of years.

Before her body was found in a field near the Greenfields Industrial Estate, Bishop Auckland, on Monday afternoon, police and rescue teams had searched Cockfield Fell and the village cemetery where her father is buried.

Helicopter observers alerted police who were combing the ground for two men who robbed the St Helen Auckland post office on Monday afternoon.

Mrs Sams had probably lain there for some time and was not identified until last night.

A post-mortem examination carried out at Bishop Auckland General Hospital failed to determine how she died and more tests are being carried out.

Police have informed the coroner, and an inquest is expected to open in the next few days.

Staff at the unit, where Mrs Sams had been on a rehabilitation course for three months before she disappeared, were said to be shocked and upset.

Mrs Sams had been in the habit of leaving for shopping trips or to go walking.

A spokesman for the County Durham and Darlington Health Authority said: "The Goodall Centre is a rehabilitation centre. It is not a secure unit and people are free to come and go.

"Disappearing like this is not something Julie had done before."