Murdered Missing Unsolved

EP10 The Search for Georgina - Missing in Lockdown

March 07, 2022 Season 1 Episode 10
Murdered Missing Unsolved
EP10 The Search for Georgina - Missing in Lockdown
Show Notes Transcript

As the impact of Covid-19 restrictions hit, Andrea’s campaign is forced online. Donal discusses the difficulties of keeping a missing person case in the public eye in this new ‘remote world’ and dissects the shocking findings of an independent review into the police investigation of Georgina Gharsallah’s disappearance.  

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**If you have any information regarding the Georgina Gharsallah case, please contact Sussex Police quoting ‘Operation Pavo’ or via Crimestoppers**

00:00 --> 00:54


Donal:              Since her disappearance more than two years ago, the family have been concerned at the professionalism and operation of the investigation into Georgina's case. Last week on the 8th of September, the family were invited by Sussex police to hear the findings of an independent review into the force's investigation, into Georgina's disappearance. The force admitted during the meeting, that key footage related to the case was not reviewed until a year after Georgina went missing. They accept that nine potentially significant segments of CCTV were also lost by the force without explanation. The review identified 27 key failings in the investigation. And the force admitted that this catalogue of failures had seriously compromised the investigation into the disappearance of Georgina.


00:55 --> 01:02


Donal:             On the 7th of March 2018 Georgina Gharsallah left her home in Worthing and vanished without trace.

01:03 --> 01:15


Clive Driscoll: Every single case I’ve ever had where I’ve had success historically is that there’s been a parent or someone who hasn’t allowed the police to forget it, hasn’t allowed the public to forget it.

01:15 --> 01:19


Petra:             We stop at absolutely nothing we’re not scared; we are not scared.


01:20 --> 01:22


Donal:              A mother’s journey to uncover the truth.


01:22 --> 01:27


Andrea:           I want answers I want to find out what happened, and I won’t stop until I do.


01:27 --> 01:33


Donal:              Murdered Missing Unsolved. The search for Georgina.


EP10 Missing in Lockdown




01:37 --> 02:24

Donal              With the world now in an online bubble, the impact on Andrea's campaign was significant. For a group of people used to being out in the community, spreading the word and keeping active in their search for Georgina, lockdown must've been particularly distressing for them. But Andrea and her team never rested. Their social media campaign grew with remote meetings and vigils, now the norm. What you just heard was from a press conference conducted by the family in September 2020, after they heard the shocking findings of an independent review into the police investigation to date. This was Andrea's response to the finding of the review, followed by Clive Driscoll, the former detective who solved the Stephen Lawrence Case and who has been with us since the start in our search for Georgina.


02:25 --> 03:29


Andrea:           Georgina my daughter has been missing for 132 weeks, 921 days to be precise. It feels like a lifetime for us, especially Georgina's children. 921 days of wondering what could have happened, how and where. It's a constant battle in our heads, trying to keep positive, trying to kick out those thoughts and pictures in our minds. We feel the devastation of what our lives have become every single minute of each day, feeling this overwhelming ambiguous loss. Desperation, despair, being in limbo, lost overwhelmed with sadness are just a few words to mention. From the very beginning of this awful nightmare, we created the find missing Georgina campaign via social media, which has been a 24-hour day mission over the past 2.6 years. It has kept us truly connected to Georgina. Lockdown had a huge impact over the last six months, limiting our physical campaign. My fight to find answers has never waned.


03:30 --> 04:24


I have continually found strength through my love for my daughter Georgina, to fight on. Seeking, searching, looking, and always thinking about what we can do next. The relationship with Sussex police hasn't always been smooth. I think they found my drive passion and determination to find answers, my continuous questions demanding. But I felt I needed to remind them constantly, I have a missing daughter who needs to be found. We have no idea if she is still alive if she suffered. No idea where she may be lying, if that is the case. We put our faith in the investigating team from the beginning because that is what you do. It is like handing over the care of your daughter to them. Trusting them to find answers. For the past 2.6 years, I have constantly questioned the police team on things that have been done and what hadn't been done and made suggestions.


04:25 --> 05:22


After about six months into the investigation, I started feeling many decisions made earlier on by the team were wrong. But they were the professionals, or so we thought. On September the eighth, 2020 upon hearing the results of a review meeting that was carried out by an independent reviewing officer. We learned that 27 failings were made in my daughter's case by Sussex police. What a shocking thing to hear. The police have clearly failed to take my daughter's case seriously, carrying out shambles of an investigation. The question is, why? Apart from the shock on hearing the findings of the review, we were left with overwhelming feelings of grief and distress. We are appalled and dismayed. The majority of vital CCTV was lost with some, not even checked until a year later. How can the police lose vital pieces of information, I ask? We put our trust in Sussex police, but they failed us.


05:23 --> 06:42


They neglected the investigation and failed Georgina and us as her family. The words, this is a learning curve for Sussex Police, mentioned repeatedly in the review meeting brings us no solace. My daughter's investigation should never have been a learning curve for the Police. Georgina is a person, a daughter, a sister, and a mum to two young children. The review exposed consequential failures in Sussex police's handling of this investigation. And these systematic failures are totally unacceptable to us. My daughter's entire case has been jeopardized so far. Perhaps the case could have been solved by now if it was treated properly and professionally from the start. How was it allowed to happen, that a team takes little care or responsibility for the investigation they were entrusted with? How is it that the review officer could not tell us who is responsible for this mess of an investigation, and no apology either. The review by Sussex police has shown the investigation team on Georgina's case as not fit for purpose. My family have lost any faith in the investigation and demand a re-investigation from the first day of reporting Georgina missing. I will never give up finding answers. Nothing can describe truly how this feels for us as a family.


06:43 --> 07:33


Clive Driscoll: If a family who's lost a loved one, who's worried about a loved one feels in any way, shape, or form that the police have acted incorrectly towards them, I would have absolutely no doubt that if I was that police officer, if I was in charge of that investigation, to say sorry. Because the answer is, you want the family to be fully on board. And I noticed, I was listening to what mum said that she doesn't know if she can work with the police. Well, the police, you know, it's the police are the professional agency that are paid. So, they have to work really hard to ensure the family do feel part of what the police are doing, because that way you get a more smooth investigation, which allows the family to have confidence in what you are doing. And that is so important as a copper. It's the police responsibility now to make sure that they get the family on board.


07:34 --> 08:23

And in fact, that the family can say, no, they all do everything in their power for my loved one. And that, hopefully the meeting, well, that will go a long way to do it. But the officer's now working on this case, they've got a big role to play, to actually solve this case and find out what happened to Georgina. And I don't think families ever move on, but at least allow them to understand what may or may not have happened to Georgina. I've never stopped admiring the families that, that, you know, go the extra mile. One of my charities, we always talk about going the extra mile. They've gone the extra mile for Georgina and my admiration for them is fantastic, and I congratulate them for that. And let's now allow Sussex police to show us all, and say, look, we're up for this. And we are going to do our level best to make sure that we, we can prove to the family and prove to the other folk in Sussex, that we are up to the task.


08:24 --> 08:58


Donal:              But whether Sussex police are up to the job, remains to be seen. An important part of Andrea's campaign has been keeping Georgina's image in the public eye. And Worthing is plastered with posters and banners pleading with the public to keep Georgina in their minds and to come forward with any information they feel might be helpful. But there's been constant rumblings from the local council that the posters and banners need to come down. That apparently, they make the town look untidy. At the last in person vigil, a local councillor had this to say.

08:59 --> 09:09


Councillor:       People are saying a lot of things like, why are we doing this? Why aren't we stopping? There are a lot of people are saying that the posters need to be taken off. People are not liking seeing, the Georgina's posters all over the town.


09:19 --> 09:16


Donal:              Do they think that putting up those posters, it makes a bad reputation for the town or it's bad for business?


09:11 --> 09:22


Councillor:       Well, that's what they think. Yeah. That's what they think, you know, it should be stopped. And...


09:23 --> 09:24


Phone dials and is answered


Speaker 6:       Good afternoon, Worthing Customer Services how can I help?


09:24 --> 09:28



Donal:              Oh, I was wondering, can I talk to somebody about putting signs up? Who do I...


09:28 --> 09:30


Speaker 6:       What kind of signs, sir?


09:30 --> 09:43


Donal:              Well, I've, my dog has gone missing, uh, George, been missing for some time and I just wanted to put up some signs around the area. I'm wondering if that was an issue? Uh… you know, and do I have to get permission, or can I just put it up and hope for the best?


09:43 --> 09:46


Speaker 6:       Are these like, A4...


09:47 --> 09:50


Donal:              A4 laminated signs and put them up there, yeah,


09:51 --> 09:54


Speaker 6:       Yeah. Just feel free to put them up on, on the trees and so forth in the area, Sir.


09:55 --> 09:57


Donal:              Okay. Thank you so much, much appreciated. Thank you. Bye-bye


09:58 --> 10:42


When it comes to George, the dog who obviously was a figment of my imagination, you can put up as many posters as you want, but when it comes to another human being, seemingly, we don't really want to be reminded of their tragic predicament. Well, this is part of the white noise and one of the many daily hurdles that Andrea has to negotiate in the search for her daughter. In October 2020 with lockdown briefly relaxed, I was able to travel to Worthing, to meet with Andrea and Petra prior to their meeting with the Chief Constable of Sussex police and senior detectives from the force. Our digital forensic expert, Andy Crocker also travelled down with us to support the family during the meeting.


10:43 --> 11:08


Andrea:           Um… why was the CCTV retrieved and not looked at for at least one year? How can this be justified? Because they didn't think Georgina was worthy of a thorough investigation? No amount of apologies can regain our faith in the team or fix, fix that. Who's taking responsibility. What next? Where do we go from here? What about the team? I think we put on the other one, the other letter to them that we want a whole new team.


11:09 --> 11:21


Donal:              Andy, do you think we need a whole new team on this? It seems unbelievable that the same investigators who are refusing any responsibility for the most grotesque, fundamental, and chronic errors, are still on the team?


11:22 --> 11:35


Andy Crocker: The amount of errors and the mindset has to change. They have got a particular mindset in this investigation. You've got to change that mindset. The only way of changing that mindset is to bring in an absolute brand-new team.


11:36 --> 11:41


Donal:              It seems to me that there's been a lot of victim blaming here. So, she was denied a proper investigation because of her lifestyle.


11:42 --> 11:47


Andrea:           Yeah, absolutely. Um… yeah, I mean, I've said that from the beginning, we actually asked them, me and my daughters said, you know, is Georgina being um… discriminated because of, um…you know, lifestyle past and they just said, no, they laughed. And they said, no.


11:48 --> 12:00


Donal:              Did they laugh?


12:01 --> 12:02


Andrea:           Yeah. They said, no.


12:02 --> 12:05


Donal:              The fact that anyone would laugh.


12:06 --> 12:39

Andy Crocker: They're going to try and ambush you with a big apology at the very beginning and say, you know, we've done our best, et cetera, and dismiss the failings. That's what they're going to try and do. They will dilute things, but they will try and put you on the back foot as opposed to them being on the back foot. Don't allow it. As soon as you go in there, you say, apology is not enough in this case, my daughter is still missing, presumed dead. You're not doing enough to find my daughter. It's not equal to what you would put into other investigations.


12:40 --> 12:50


Donal:              OK, we're at the veranda coffee shop here. We're not allowed to film or record close to the venue. So, we're meeting here beforehand. Now what's your role? I think you've got a really important role, protecting the family, asking the questions that they can't ask.


12:51 --> 13:21



Andy Crocker: Yeah. I know police minds. I know the way they think, and I know the way they work. And the one thing I'm going to make sure, because I know what they're going to do when we go in. They will try and ambush her with a big apology and try and put her on the back foot that they're very sorry. But I'm not gonna allow them to bamboozle the family at all. I'm going to make sure that the questions we want answered, are answered. And I won't let them get away with not answering them. We need a new investigation team on this.


13:22 --> 13:41



Donal:              Well, listen, I'm very proud, Andrea, because you've thought hard. This is your very first meeting for more than two and a half years with the Chief Constable. You've asked for this meeting for a long, long while. And you've shouted from the rooftops you have screamed; you have beaten them into submission and now they're coming in. Well, I hope the very least you get an apology. Listen, the best of luck to you. Andy, look after our girl...


13:42 --> 13:43


Andy Crocker: Absolutely.


Donal:             As Andrea and Andy head off to the meeting, I take the opportunity to catch-   up with Petra, who’s been at Andrea’s side since the very beginning. Driving forward their search for justice and, above all else, a friend and supportive shoulder for Andrea whenever her amazing resilience and fortitude falters.



13:43 --> 13:45


Donal:             You've been talking to Andrea. She's a changed woman from the start?


13:45 --> 14:05

Petra:              Yes. I would say Andrea has built up a lot of strength over the last two and a half years. She is definitely a woman determined to find the answers, you know, to find out what happened to her daughter. So, um…


14:06 --> 14:20


Donal:              Do you think she's going to be gentle on the cops? Because Andy said the cops are going to try and deflect and dilute. I mean, for example, when they said all the CCTV hadn't been looked at and even went missing, they said these were missed opportunities when everyone else thought these are catastrophic failings.


14:21 --> 15:11


Petra:              No, I don't think she's going to be going soft, you know, being mild on, on the cops now at all. I think, um… you know, now Andrea has been validated in, uh, her claims for which she made for a long time about, you know, that there are failures in the investigation. And following the review, this has been sort of validated now. So, I don't think she's going to be mild. I think she's now more determined than ever to hold the police to account. You know, she didn't want to believe it actually for quite a while, that the police would let her down. But, um, you know, like I said, as time has gone on and I think since last year in August, when out of the blue, the police suddenly found CCTV, Georgina in the town centre.


15:12 --> 15:34


Donal:              Now remember when they released that they said to Andrea that she should be grateful all the hard work, which went into finding that. And of course, she, at the time rightfully said hard work? The fact that you've found it now shows that you should have found it in the very beginning. So, she isolated very, very quickly. But how offensive was it that they were being asked to be grateful for finding that CCTV? I.E, be grateful for delayed incompetence?


15:35 --> 16:32


Petra:              Yes. I think, uh… you know, that was quite shocking to Andrea. Now, Andrea perhaps, uh… months before that perhaps even a year before that. Uh, so within six months to a year of Georgina going missing, perhaps she would have just kind of accepted what they said and kind of bowed down. Um… I think, you know, since then she, she has just not bought what they've said to her, you know? And she's, uh, she's absolutely certain that there is nothing to be grateful for actually in the investigation, because from where she's standing, they haven't found her daughter. They have lost CCTV. They have had, well they've made many, uh, failings in the investigation. So, uh… for Andrea, I, uh… I do know this from our conversation. She has nothing to be grateful for, to Sussex police at this point.


16:33 --> 16:51


Donal:              Now we're waiting for them to come out from the meeting. We're not allowed to film. We're not allowed to record. Not even allowed to stand outside the venue. We're watching our phones, waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican. We'll just wait, we're on a count down. Okay. Petra. We'll just wait for them to, to come.


16:52 --> 17:00


Donal:             The meeting continued on for longer than anticipated, but I was able to catch up with Andrea and Andy just a little bit later on their mobiles.


17:01 --> 17:03


Donal:             Describe what happened from the moment you went in.


17:04 --> 18:19


Andy Crocker: Well, we arrived, and the Chief Constable was there. The family liaison officer was there, and the head of major crime was there. And they introduced themselves, started off with introductions. And then the Chief Constable started off the meeting by saying, I want to, before we start, I want to absolutely, unreservedly, apologize for the failings of this investigation into your missing daughter. She recognized there had been failings. She recognized that there'd been recommendations already, um, in the initial investigation into what happened. For that she absolutely apologizes. It should never have happened. And she wants to make sure that it will never happen again. They praised the family for the way they conducted themselves and their strength of character in going forward with the social media campaign and keeping it in such a high profile. The important thing of this meeting, it was a positive meeting to be perfectly honest with you. In the fact that the Chief Constable has given some personal assurances to the family. She has given personal assurances that she will keep the investigation on track, she has said the communication will improve. We have to sort of take it on their word that they're going to improve.


18:20 --> 18:42


They said that they will learn from the mistakes and that they will put processes in place to stop it from happening again. Whatever we do, we've got to go forward and let's work out how we can do it. The police have come up with some ideas. We've come up with some ideas. If we all put our heads together and we work together, then I'm sure we can get a result from it.


18:43 --> 18:44

Donal:              Tell us what happened.


18:45 --> 19:17


Andrea:           Soon as we got in there, she just started giving her apologies. And you know, she can't apologize enough. I just said, yeah, I'm grateful that you have made an apology, but it doesn't…. it doesn't mean anything to me, it doesn't, it's not gonna cover the fact that the police were negligent in my daughter's case, and they failed, you know, nothing will ever repair that. And she said, no, no, no, no. You know, I know it won't, you know, I'm not a mother, but I can imagine what you're going through. And I thought, well you can't...


19:18 --> 20:17


Donal:              And Andrea sums it up there in that brief nutshell, the crux of this story. Nobody can ever truly understand the heartache that Andrea and her family have gone through and continue to endure. Until you've experienced the pain of a lost loved one, the continuous limbo of not knowing where they are or what happened. All you can do is listen, comfort and help in any way you can. The apology from the police, although welcome, changes nothing. All it does is serve as a vindication for Andrea's unswerving fight for the truth. The community's unwavering friendship and commitment to the cause. And the Gharsallah families' dogged determination to uncover what went wrong here. We'll continue to be there for this family, to shine a light on this tragic story. But none of this gives Andrea or her family what they desperately want…. Georgina.


20:18 --> 21:07


Andrea:           Dear daughter Georgina, as your 34th birthday approaches on Friday, it’s hard to think that this will be the fourth birthday without you here. Without seeing your beautiful smile. Without seeing that love in your eyes when you are with your boys. They miss you so much. And we miss you so much. What we would give to spend another birthday with you to hear your voice and to hear your laughter. I keep that picture in my mind always. What I would give to hear those last words at bedtime that you always said when you was growing up as a young girl, I love you more than you love me. There's a missing piece in our family Georgina, and that is you. A candle of hope will be lit for you on your birthday, keeping your light shining for you all the way home. You are missed my beautiful third daughter.


21:08 --> 21:39


Donal:              If you have any information regarding the Georgina Gharsallah case, no matter how insignificant you may think it is, please contact Sussex police on 101, or in confidence via Crimestoppers who are offering a 10,000-pound reward. Murdered. Missing unsolved is presented by me, Donal MacIntyre, and produced by Inherent Productions and Steve Langridge music is by Alex Sayne and additional audio production by John Franklin audio