The identity of human remains found in dense bushland in northern NSW may remain a mystery for weeks but police believe it's "highly unlikely" they belong to missing Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez.
NSW Police found the skeletal remains while investigating the disappearance of 42-year-old Thea Liddle, who is described as living an alternative lifestyle with no fixed address and was last seen in the Mooball area on October 31.
The remains were found off Tallow Beach Road in Byron Bay on Wednesday but Detective Chief Inspector Brendon Cullen says it's too early to determine their gender or whether they belong to Ms Liddle.
But he admitted it was "highly unlikely" they belonged to Mr Hayez, 18, who disappeared from the popular beach town more than a year ago.
The teenager was last seen leaving the Cheeky Monkey's bar on May 31, 2019. Police were alerted to his disappearance by staff at the Wake Up! Hostel six days after he failed to return from the night out.
"(Because of) the circumstances surrounding the location of this deceased person, we do not believe that it is Theo Hayez," Det Insp Cullen told reporters on Thursday.
The identity of the remains may not be known for weeks, Det Insp Cullen said.
"What we have here is an unexplained death, we don't know who that person is or how they came to be there or the cause of death," he said.
"That is something that we are taking our time to thoroughly examine and work out the circumstances of that death."
News of the human remains was shared to Facebook group Looking for Théo Hayez, prompting a response from the young man’s family.
They replied “thank you” to a comment asking others to refrain from sharing news articles speculating who the remains belonged to.
“Please refrain from commenting on this post with recent news articles about the search for Thea for the time being,” the comment read.
“Thea’s friends are on this post and Theo’s Belgian family needs to be made aware of the recent news in an appropriate way as it is just the morning there now.”
Several items were also found during the search of the area, which police say is popular with campers and homeless people.
Police searched the area after speaking to Ms Liddle's associates who identified places where the 42-year-old had previously set up makeshift camps.
Det Insp Cullen said police are still investigating her disappearance and urged anyone with any information about her whereabouts to talk to police. Detectives are in regular contact with her parents, who are "very distraught".
Det Insp Cullen insists it's coincidental both Ms Liddle and Mr Hayez disappeared in the Byron Bay area.
"There is no connection whatsoever between the disappearance of Thea Liddle and disappearance of Theo Hayez - they are two completely separate incidents," he said.
"Both incidents are unique and not associated in any shape or form."
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