WITNESSES say they saw a man sobbing near a woman's body lying dead in a New Forest field which is at the heart of a murder investigation.

The woman – who has yet to be formally identified – was found shortly before 5pm on Tuesday in a field opposite Leygreen Farm.

Last night officers launched a murder inquiry after revealing they are treating her death as suspicious.

Hampshire police’s Major Investigation Team is trying to establish how the woman died and are awaiting results from a post-mortem which was being carried out last night by a Home Office pathologist.

Officers are continuing to contact the woman’s next of kin.

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Detective Superintendent Paul Barton said: “We are treating the discovery of a woman’s body in Beaulieu as murder.

“I would like to appeal to anyone who was in the area between 2pm and 5pm on Tuesday to contact us.”

He added: “We will be increasing our patrols in the area but I want to remind the community that crimes of this nature are extremely rare.”

Police believe the woman was tending her horse before she died and are urging witnesses to come forward.

Reports locally suggested she had been found by her husband.

Officers taped off the field and guarded the opposite farm building throughout yesterday.

A white and yellow tent was put up at the spot where she was found while forensics officers and sniffer dogs arrived at the site.

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Police searched the hedgerows for clues and carried out door-to-door inquiries.

The discovery has shocked villagers living nearby in the quiet farming community.

A 42-year-old man saw emergency services arriving when he returned from feeding horses in a neighbouring field.

He said: “We saw three police cars there and then two ambulances racing past.

“We thought maybe someone had been injured on a horse but then we saw a man extremely distressed.

“He was sobbing his heart out on the ground and I realised something bad must have happened.

“It’s really worrying because whatever’s happened it’s someone’s child.”

A 38-year-old woman added: “There have been forensics there most of the time in their white kits.

“It plays on your mind because I often come here alone. It’s concerning because it’s happened so close.”

Witnesses should contact the Major Investigation Team on 101 quoting Operation Biscotti or leave information anonymously by ringing the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.