French and Spanish police to meet to discuss hunt for British hiker

French and Spanish police hunting for missing British hiker Esther Dingley, 37, will hold summit meeting to discuss next steps in Pyrenees search

  • French and Spanish authorities are due to meet in Spain later this week
  • The search for missing hiker Esther Dingley has been halted by bad weather   
  • Authorities say all options are open regarding what happened to Dingley but say an accident or criminal activity may explain her disappearance 
  • Partner Daniel Colegate, 38, and mother Maria ‘Ria’ Bryant issued a joint statement on Monday begging anyone with information to come forward

French and Spanish police searching for missing British hiker Esther Dingley are set to hold a summit to discuss next steps in resolving her mystery disappearance.

Dingley, 37,  was last seen on November 22 in the Pyrenees as she made her way to the summit of the Pic de Sauveguard mountain. 

At the time, she was on a solo hike through the mountain range, which straddles Spain and France. 

On Monday, her partner and mother issued a desperate plea, asking anyone who might have information about her disappearance to come forward. 

The last communication from Dingley was a selfie she sent to her partner of 19 years Daniel Colegate from the top of the mountain on November 22. 

She had been due to return to their farmhouse in Gascony, south west France, three days later but failed to do so.

French and Spanish police searching for missing British hiker Esther Dingley are set to hold a summit to discuss next steps in resolving her mystery disappearance. Pictured: Dingley and her partner of 19 years Daniel Colegate

French police captain Jean Marc Bordinaro told The Sun that he and Spanish colleagues would be holding a meeting later this week at an unspecified location in Spain after bad weather halted search efforts, The Scottish Sun reported. 

Investigators are reportedly considering the possibility that the experienced hiker had an accident or fell victim to a criminal act. 

Policemen from Spain’s Civil Guard have said ‘all options are open’ but The Scottish Sun reported that they said privately that a mountain accident was the ‘most likely’.

Colegate, 38, Dingley’s partner, said he found it difficult to imagine that she had had an accident as the descent from the mountain was relatively short and the terrain and weather were both good.    

Regarding the meeting, Bordinaro told The Sun that it will be ‘a good chance to pinpoint exactly what has been done so far and decide where we go from here,’ adding that French and Spanish authorities are sharing information on a regular basis.  

‘Because of the suspension of the mountain search we are focusing on two lines of inquiry at the moment which are that she disappeared voluntarily or someone else had a hand in her disappearance,’ he said. 

Colegate and Dingley’s mother Maria ‘Ria’ Bryant have rubbished the theory that Dingley might have disappeared of her own will. 

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

Ria said her daughter openly discussed her travel plans and decisions with her.

She said: ‘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.’

Expert mountain guide Patrice Lagleize told The Sun that he believed Dingley may have had an accident or possibly fallen ill while at the summit. 

Dingley was an experienced hiker who Colegate said was well prepared for her route

Lagleize, who has 30 years of experience with mountain rescue said that, while the weather was very warm the day Dingley went missing, it dropped suddenly on the French side of the mountain and this could easily have created problems for the hiker.   

‘What is strange though is that even though this is the most likely outcome, no trace of her has been found but with the bad weather now it will be many weeks before more thorough searches can take place.

‘Sadly people have gone missing before in those mountains and they do eventually turn up when their bodies are found after the snow melts but one thing for sure is that she is unlikely to have been attacked by a bear or fallen into a lake,’ he told The Sun. 

Bordinaro said French police had no plans to question Colegate, who has already spoken to French, Spanish and UK authorities. 

Colegate said he had cooperated fully with all investigations, adding: ‘My only goal is to help them do what they need to do as quickly as possible.’ 

He said Dingley was an experienced hiker and well prepared to make the solo-trip from Spain to France. 

‘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 multi-day 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.’

Colegate and Dingley’s mother have dismissed French police claims that she may have deliberately disappeared because she feared her nomadic lifestyle was about to end

Dingley’s family are being assisted by missing persons charity LBT Global, formerly known as the Lucie Blackman Trust.

LBT Chief Executive Matthew Searle MBE urged anyone with any information about Dingley’s disappearance to come forward, even if they have broken Covid restrictions.

He said: ‘If you have information please do pass it to us, anonymously if you wish, and it will be passed to investigators.

‘We are not interested in any rule breaking.

‘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.

‘There is a huge amount of interest in this case and we have had hundreds of enquiries.’

Anyone with information that could help find missing hiker Esther Dingley is urged to contact LBT Global through the following ways.

LBT Global Hotline: +44 (0) 800 098 8485

WhatsApp: +44 (0) 7545 826 497 

Email: [email protected]

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