Missing hiker’s mum ‘utterly distraught’ about beloved daughter’s disappearance

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The mother of a missing hiker says it is “utterly out of character” for her to be out of contact.

Esther Dingley’s family and her partner have appealed for help finding the 37-year-old Oxford graduate and travel blogger

She went missing on November 22 while walking on a solo trek in the Pyrenees.

In statements issued through the Lucie Blackman Trust, her mum and longtime partner have asked anyone with information that could help find Esther to come forward.

In her statement, Esther’s mum Ria said: “Esther values family above everything and on all her trips we are always in regular contact, sharing the day-to-day small details of life. We communicated several times every day.

“We are utterly distraught not knowing where Esther is or what has happened to her and would implore anyone who may know anything, however seemingly insignificant, to come forward with that information.

“We are desperate to see our beloved girl again so thank you for anything you can do to help us find her.”

Her partner Daniel Colegate also dismissed reported French and Spanish police theories that Miss Dingley had deliberately disappeared.

The family earlier labelled the idea of her going missing purposefully as ‘wild theories.’

He has given an indepth statement about their life together, as Esther’s loved ones supporters urged a swift end to social media speculation about their private life.

The couple have been in a relationship for nearly 19 years, and the pair have spent the last six years together travelling Europe in a camper van.

Mr Colegate also issued a statement via the Lucie Blackman Trust (LBT) today, describing how reports he had been ‘quizzed’ by French police had upset him.

He had earlier said he was concerned by comments made by Captaine Jean-Marc Bordinaro, who is leading the French probe into his girlfriend’s disappearance, that suggested police could not rule out she was unhappy in the relationship and had gone in search of a new life.

Mr Colgate said in a statement today: “We spoke every day, the time apart worked as we expected, and we were very joyful when we spoke. We were missing each other. The hike she went missing on was to be her last hike before driving back.

“Our last conversation was totally loving and all smiles. She was so happy, and we were excited to see each other.

He continued: “Why the police who spoke to a journalist implied ‘things weren’t as happy as they looked’ baffles me. I have never spoken to the person quoted. All the police I have spoken to just nodded and said things like “totally normal then…”

Mr Colegate said he had regularly spoken with police search teams since his partner went missing, and was interviewed by the Spanish criminal investigation, followed by French criminal investigators.

He said: “I have not been ‘quizzed’ three times. I have given a statement to all the various different units involved in this case, including conversations with UK police.

“I think people imagine there is one set of police who keep hauling me in to go over my statement again like on TV.

“In reality, there are just lots of different people who need to go through the motions. I have cooperated fully with each one, going through my electronic data, social media, providing bank details, passwords etc. My only goal is to help them do what they need to do as quickly as possible.”

Esther’s mum added that her daughter openly discussed her plans and decisions with her:

“Esther is an open book. She openly shared some of the difficult decisions that she and Dan would be facing soon, primarily linked to Brexit and the impact that would have on their itinerant lifestyle, but that didn’t dampen her joy for the life they both were living.”

Mr Colegate said that contrary to some reports, they are a normal couple.

“We’ve been together for almost 19 years – a couple since February 2002. I find it frustrating to be known as ‘the boyfriend’.

“We only did not get married because I was too sick due to the same illness that catalysed our nomadic lifestyle. We had to cancel our wedding in February 2014 because I had only just got out of hospital and could not walk.

“Two months later we started travelling. We are soulmates. Once on the road, having a wedding certificate no longer seemed important.

“This summer we did a 1000-mile hike together and we always planned to spend 2 weeks doing our own thing afterwards, because we knew it was good for us as individuals and for our relationship.

“We had just spent 80 days in the wilderness with just each other for company. I wanted to relax in a house due to my health issues, Esther wanted to take advantage of the mild autumn and do some more outdoor things.

“That was why she went touring solo; it was pre-planned and agreed upon. It was a non-event for us. We had done it before.

“She only crossed into Spain because the French announced a new lockdown a few days after she set off. Then, because the weather was so mild and she was having fun, she kept extending the trip by a few days at time.

“If she had come home, she would have been tied to the house as I was. Our conversations essentially boiled down to ‘I miss you but I’m also glad you’re having a good time’. And she knew I was happy resting in a house.”

Esther is an experienced mountain hiker, Mr Colegate added.

The couple lived in Framwellgate Moor, Durham.

She ran a personal training firm and Mr Colegate was a business development manager before they left to go travelling in Europe.

His statement continued: “Esther was not on a ‘month-long hike’ or ‘month long solo trip’. Her trip was ad hoc, consisting of day walks, days in the motorhome and several multiday walks. She always let me know when she was setting off and when she expected to be back.

“In this case, she spent Nov 20th in the motorhome and set out on Nov 21st. The ‘mystery man’ who gave her a lift back to the motorhome on the 19th (after her previous hiking trip) spoke to the police already.

“Esther’s a very experienced hiker. The terrain she was on is not difficult. The weather was excellent. It does not mean she hasn’t had an accident; I just consider it unlikely.

“Reference to falling into the lakes, which was a story for a day, is also possible, but also highly unlikely. The paths near the lakes are wide and easy. You do not just fall ten metres sideways into a lake.

“There seems to be a perception that because it’s the mountains, because it’s nearly winter and because Esther was alone, that what she was doing was reckless and “of course” she has had an accident”.

“The situation on the ground is that the conditions were perfect, Esther had all the equipment to look after herself, and from the peak we last spoke on, she could be at a road in either France or Spain within 90 minutes – 2 hours. She was not lost in the Amazon rainforest. These are trails that families walk in summer.

“Esther specified her route from the summit we spoke on. She had two hours of daylight to reach a refuge winter room, a distance that would have taken her less than an hour.

“From my own visits I know she wouldn’t have had a phone signal again on Sunday afternoon/evening, but she would have had a signal very soon after setting off the next day.

“Because Esther is so particular about sending updates to family, if Esther did have an accident it must have been in that very small area, an area that was pored over daily until the heavy snow arrived.”

LBT Global said the Trust had confirmed reports of a light seen in a motorhome was due to police activity.

Esther had parked her camper van in Benasque, northern Spain then hitched to Pic de Sauvegarde to begin her solo trek in the Pyrenees.

She was seen by fellow hikers on November 22, when she also sent a photo to her partner from the mountain top.

A solar panel and communications mast were reflected in her sunglasses.

It is thought she was last seen by Spanish Olympic skier Marti Vigo del Arco and his girlfriend, who may have passed her on the peak.

LBT Chief Executive Matthew Searle MBE urged anyone with information on Esther’s whereabouts to come forward.

He said: “We are not interested in any rule breaking. If you have information please do pass it to us, anonymously if you wish, and it will be passed to investigators. Whether somebody has stepped over a border or not is immaterial, what matters is that every bit of information that could bring Esther home is provided.”

He also urged an end to online speculation, insisting people “stop forensically examining Esther’s personal life on social groups,” which was upsetting her loved ones.

“The public do not have an automatic right to know everything about her life – just that information that can help bring her home. Making assumptions and spreading unconfirmed assumptions is unhelpful and unfair, as well as deeply upsetting for those closest to Esther.”