MATTHEW Leveson’s devastated parents were told on Thursday the search of bushland, south of Sydney, for their son’s body had been called off. Detectives said on Thursday afternoon they had been unable to find the 20-year-old’s remains during an eight-day hunt near Waterfall in the Royal National Park.

Investigators were taken to the site late last week by Mr Leveson’s former boyfriend, Michael Atkins, 53, who was acquitted of the younger man’s murder two years after his 2007 disappearance.

Despite the search concluding, detectives insist they are not abandoning their efforts to find Mr Leveson.

Inspector Gary Jubelin paid tribute to the young man’s family, who have attended the search site every day.

“It’s been difficult for them and it’s been a privilege to work with them on this investigation,” he told reporters.

Mark Leveson, Matthew’s father, said the search’s conclusion was not the end. “Although this is no results here I’ve got to say what this does is only strengthen our resolve,” he said.

“We’re now even more determined to find Matt.

A deal Mr Atkins struck with the NSW Attorney General stated if he led them to Matthew’s body, he would not be prosecuted for perjuring himself during the inquest into his one time boyfriends’s death. It is not clear what implication calling off the search will have on that deal.

Earlier, Matthew’s family walked through the bushland where his body may have been hidden for almost a decade, holding hands and crying softly.

Mark and Faye Leveson have fought for years for the truth about what happened to him in September 2007, when he vanished without a trace after leaving a gay club in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.

What they want the most though is to know where their son’s body is so he can be given a proper burial.

This week they have watched as police forensics teams use excavators to clear dense bushland after being directed there by Matthew’s former lover.

Mr Atkins was acquitted by a Supreme Court jury of Matthew’s murder in 2009.

On Wednesday the parents, with their two other sons, were allowed into the search area which has been declared a crime scene as the painstaking work goes on.

“One of the hardest days so far, our family walking over where Matt might be buried,” a post on the Justice for Matthew Leveson Facebook page read.

Earlier in the day some family members were seen to be crying again after they had been given a briefing by police. Investigators did not elaborate on what was said and soon after closed off the surrounding area to media.

Search crews — and the Leveson family — are expected to be back in the area today. It has now been a full week since they started searching for any traces of Mr Leveson.

A white sneaker unearthed at the site on Friday is still being examined by forensics to determine whether it had any connection with Mr Leveson. A second, unidentified item, believed to be insignificant, was found on Saturday but was quickly bagged and taken away by police.

Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott, who has presided over the inquest into Mr Leveson’s disappearance, and Mr Atkins’ lawyer visited the site and spoke to detectives.

Police have indicated the search may wrap up within days if nothing of significance is found. If so it will be a bitter blow for the Leveson family who have conducted their own searches in the Royal National Park over the years such was their desperation to find their son.

The couple told last week they believed they had searched the same spot now under scrutiny before.

“Words can’t describe it, it’s horrendous,” Mrs Leveson said.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that we were in there and we could have been on Matty, standing right on top of him.”

The family has always been determined to bring him home after he disappeared

“Nine years, and we’re going to bring him home, we’re going to give him somewhere where he can lay to rest,” Mrs Leveson said.

“Where his brothers can go and talk to him, where we can talk to him, where his friends can say goodbye.

“He’s never been given that opportunity, he [Mr Atkins] just dumped him like a piece of rubbish.”

Mr Leveson has had 13 tattoos since the family lost Matthew. One, an inscription on his right shoulder of Matthew’s face, date of birth and date he was last seen, is all the “tombstone” they have for now.

Other tattoos read: “Winners are losers who don’t give up” and “All that is necessary for triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

A big pile of flowers, some with touching notes, has been left near the car park which leads to the path where police are searching.

The coronial inquiry into his disappearance will resume next year. “Coronial investigations are continuing for the purpose of attempting to locate and recover the remains of Matthew Leveson,” a statement from the NSW Coroner’s Court said on Wednesday.

“Yesterday Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott visited the Royal National Park to observe the progress of police investigations at the site. The inquest into the death of Matthew Leveson has been adjourned until 6 March 2017.”

When Mr Atkins gave evidence at the inquest he claimed Mr Leveson could potentially still be alive — even suggesting he was living in Thailand. He was given immunity from prosecution arising from his evidence as part of a deal that forced him into the witness box at the inquest.

A second deal was then struck when he was threatened with perjury charges after admitting he lied under oath. The deal — approved by Mr and Mrs Leveson — saw him given immunity from the perjury charge if he revealed where the body was.

That lead to the sensational search in the bushland and with it, the Leveson family’s best chance yet at closure.