As Donal learns more about Georgina Gharsallah’s background and movements in the days leading up to her disappearance, it becomes clear that the seaside town of Brighton played a key part in her life. Andrea shows Donal the places that Georgina was known to have visited in Brighton and they discuss her mental state at the time.
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**If you have any information regarding the Georgina Gharsallah case, please contact Sussex Police quoting ‘Operation Pavo’ or via Crimestoppers**
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Donal: During the past couple of episodes, I’ve tried to understand more about Georgina’s movements during the days and weeks that led to her disappearance, and we’ve mainly focussed on the Worthing area so far, but what’s emerged is Georgina’s strong links to Brighton and the people she knew there. I’m travelling to Brighton today to meet Andrea and to try and work out whether the key to solving this case lies in Worthing or a short train ride away just along the coast in Brighton…
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Donal: On the 7th of March 2018 Georgina Gharsallah left her home in Worthing and vanished without trace.
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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.
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Petra: We stop at absolutely nothing we’re not scared; we are not scared.
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Donal: A mother’s journey to uncover the truth.
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Andrea: I want answers I want to find out what happened, and I won’t stop until I do.
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Donal: Murdered, Missing, Unsolved. The search for Georgina.
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Episode Three - The Brighton Connection
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Donal: We're here in Brighton and there's a Bugden’s 24-hour shop, very close to the station right beside it, and we know that the day before, she went missing, she was in Brighton, what do you know of her movements?
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Andrea: Um…. I just know that she, she got a lift to Brighton and, um…. she was staying with a friend at the Royal Albion hotel down, straight down, but she came up here to buy some ... She came up here, um…. the friend who she was staying with worked across in one of these kebab places. So, I'm not exactly sure of the movements, but I think she came up here to see him, come in here to buy something, and then was talking to a guy in here about accommodation in Brighton.
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Donal: And that evening, the night before she disappeared, she had spent some of the evening with an ex-boyfriend who spent some time in the hotel.
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Andrea: Then she went to the hotel afterwards, I think when he finished work, they were at the hotel and then the next morning she came home. Um…. so, Budgens, obviously, she came in here to buy something. She was thinking about moving to Brighton at the time. So, she'd been sort of chatting to the cashier, he was a cashier. So, she'd been chatting about accommodation. He said, he knew somebody, gave her a number of somebody who…. who lets rooms and flats?
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Donal: What is really, I suppose….is difficult about this case is that a lot of the men and bad choices she's made, you know, there's been violent men, there’s been drug dealers, there's been you know a range of people who kind of…. she has curious relationships with its messy, so it's very difficult to unpick. But for all of that my gut instinct, which carries no more weight than that, uh, suggests to me that none, absolute none of that background is relevant to the investigation. I think what's much more likely, is that something random, wrong place, wrong time, and because of the life she led, she was more likely to be in the wrong place in the wrong time than most people. How do you feel here re-treading the steps that Georgina took in the days before she went missing?
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Andrea: Um…. well, thinking about it, obviously I feel sad cause this is, I know she was here. Um…. I just sort of try and picture her coming in here, standing here.
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Donal: So, she was in Budgens buying some time connecting with a guy in there, 62 messages she was going to see the….
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Andrea: The messages were that the following night….
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Donal: the following night…
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Andrea: They were on the following night because they were the last messages on the phone, like the last sort of, bit of data on the phone. There wasn't anybody else on there.
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Donal: So, before the phone gave up the ghost basically in the morning, so Monday night she was in Budgens.
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Andrea: And then at the Albion hotel, later at the Albion hotel she was seen...
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Donal: And then her next movements after that?
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Andrea: She come back to me on the morning, she…. she come back to the station called me and asked if I could pick her up from the station...
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Donal: That’s Tuesday morning now?
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Andrea: Tuesday morning. Um…. she wasn't there then she'd already walked. So, and that was the last time I'd seen her or spoken to her until Wednesday when I got home, she was asleep. So, she slept that night. I didn't see her, as she was still in bed until Wednesday morning at half-past six when I got up and she was already up.
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Donal: So, Brighton, Monday, Monday night, Tuesday morning, Worthing, all day Worthing in your house asleep. Wednesday morning, mobile phone, trying to get it fixed, leaving your house around 9:15, 9:30 last time she seen alive. Yeah, you saw her when she got up on the Wednesday morning and uh…. how was she?
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Andrea: Well, she'd been up all night. Um…. but she was sort of, she got things, she was a bit agitated. Uh…. there was nothing which alarmed me to think, oh, Georgina's depressed and she's going to go off and do something.
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Donal: So, so her ex-boyfriend, were they, you know, occasionally kind of catch-up lovers’ catch-up boyfriend, girlfriend, you know, casual lovers after that, you know, I mean, or ….
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Andrea: He was quite one of those that helps everybody, you know, like he was he'd help loads of girls. Like because when she was with him, she, it was something he'd do and it would annoy her, you know? So, um…. I think he; I suppose on the Monday she wanted to come and stay in Brighton.
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Donal: So, we'll get a quieter place but effectively she…. Brighton was hopefully potentially a place where she was going to go and kickstart...
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Andrea: To get away from Worthing, I think, from the boyfriend and that, and I think she thought she might have more opportunities here. Um…. get more help getting accommodation and getting the help out of her situation, I think.
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Donal: There's no doubt. There's a range of violent men she's hung around with over the last 10 years, you know, take your pick.
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Andrea: She has had boyfriends where I thought, oh yeah, can't you find somebody nicer than him, um, um…. you know, whatever are you doing with him? I think she was attracted to that type. Um…. I don't know why, uh…. she has had a couple of nice boyfriends, which I thought were really nice, but it didn't last very long, because I didn't think they were probably exciting enough for her.
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Donal: Do you think the police contacted any of the ex-boyfriends?
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Andrea: They said they did. We gave them the list. Um, and they said they'd contacted who they needed to, but we never got any sort of information further than that, about what it was or what they said, or it would be nobody's seen her or yeah, yeah, we've spoken to him. He knows nothing. And that was it.
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Donal: Do you think that the answers to what happened to her lie in Brighton or Worthing?
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Andrea: I mean, Brighton's bigger, much bigger, isn't it? And I dunno, I suppose when you think about it, but it's not what, I don't have a feeling like that, but now you say, I suppose it would be more feasible to think. Yeah, it would have something could have happened in Brighton because of the, the big...
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Donal: As Andrea trails off here, from what she’s told us so far, it’s pretty clear that Georgina was hoping to move to Brighton and start afresh. She had an ex-boyfriend and a circle of contacts here already and had actually been to view a flat in the Portslade area of the city just before she went missing.
It sounds as though Georgina certainly had plans – she wanted to escape her life in Worthing to a certain degree – even though Brighton is only half-an-hour train journey away from her home. Andrea touched upon Georgina’s mental state at the time, and this is an area I now want to explore in a little more depth. We find a coffee shop nearby and I ask her how Georgina was in the lead-up to the day she disappeared and if suicide had ever been a consideration. The coffee shop is a little loud with music playing in the background, so you may want to listen a little bit closer for this part…
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Andrea: Myself, I can't see that she was in that frame of mind. Um…. she was a bit down about the boyfriend, she wanted to move, she wanted to try and start a new life, she wanted to try and get herself better? She had plans. Um….
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Donal: That's interesting, she had plans. She had benchmarks that would kind of tend to swerve against the possibility of suicide. What was going wrong in her life at the time?
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Andrea: I think, well, obviously it stemmed from her…. stemmed from her drinking issues. Um…. she liked to drink, I didn't really class her as an alcoholic, but more sort of a binge drinker who could drink to excess. But then she would have days where she didn't, wouldn't touch a drink. Um, I think that was, it was that, but she liked, she liked drinking. When I spoke to her, I said, you need to stop, you know, you you're somebody who needs to never drink, and she's like, well, I like it. If she had drank to excess, she could be quite a bit aggressive, quite aggressive, um…. but sort of the last few…. I think that was more when she was younger, we'd seen quite…. we've had some bad times, with her like depression and things. The last few years she'd sort, seemed to be, sort of have it a bit more balanced and she'd have a few cans of beer or whatever and, and just be quite chatty. Um…. she'd perhaps be in and out, um…. you know, smoking cigarettes and stuff like that. Um...
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Donal: Would she smoke a bit of weed?
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Andrea: Yeah, she smoked it. Yes. Um…. and that was it. I'd never seen her do anything else. I'd spoken to her. She’d…. I’d obviously known in the past that she tried things, but she'd never, she was very open. I believe she would have told me. Um, I mean, I knew she smoked weed and she told me that and it was like, don't bring it here. You know, don't bring it to the house.
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Donal: And she told you she occasionally tried cocaine.
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Andrea: She tried and told me that. Um…. and she did it, wasn't sort of her sort of thing. Um…. so, I knew that, and she'd sort of talk about other things that were going around or what they were, and, um…. and that she'd obviously some she told me she tried, but there was nothing, there was nothing else that from what I could see from her, it was just the drinking beer and smoking, smoking weed. And I actually asked the boyfriend and I said, look, can you be truthful with me? And I'm like, tell me, because if there's anything I should know, because I'm trying to understand this. Is this, you know, if you tell me, oh yeah, well, she actually had a cocaine problem, it might, it could lead to something different paths, you know? And he just said, no, she, Georgina just liked to smoke weed and a beer, and she was quite happy that, you know,
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Donal: Was she ever on antidepressants?
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Andrea: No, not that I of, no.
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Donal: Did she ever take counselling; did she ever have a suicide attempt before? Or …suicide.
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Andrea: No. No, never.
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Donal: That morning... Did she exhibit any signs of suicidal tendencies?
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Andrea: No, nothing.
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Donal: Was she withdrawn?
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Andrea: Nothing different than, you know, she was agitated because of the phone, and you know, everyone it’s their phone it’s their priority, isn't it? Cause you need, you need your phone to do everything, and she had all these things she wanted to do, and the phone wasn't working, so she was sort of agitated, but that wasn't, um…. it wasn't abnormal from her behaviour. She would get agitated if things weren't going right and Georgina was a bit, she would act a little bit like a child and it would be, oh, I can't, you know, that sort of, um…. and that's how she was. Um…. she, sort of banged the phone down and said, this isn't working, what am I going to do? what am I going to fucking do? And I'm not going to get anywhere, am I? And I just said, well, I've got this phone and your dad, her dad bought her one, but I think he'd been round the previous day and he didn't find her there. And he said he wasn't going to post it through the letterbox. So, she never actually got the phone, and I said, he's got you one, and so, she just said, well, you know, I'm going out.
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Donal: Have you discussed with her sisters and her dad, the possibility that she may have committed suicide?
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Andrea: Um…. we've discussed between us, me, and her sisters, and they don't think…. they don't. They just think it's, it's not even an option.
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Donal: But if she had, where would she have walked to? If the police and National Crime Agency think it's a possibility, then, you know, do they have any idea of how it would have happened? Where would she have gone from four o'clock, would she…. she clearly wasn't going to be assisted with her, you know, her friend who she was with. Was there any suggestion the police gave you as to how she would have done it? Would she have walked off the pier...?
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Andrea: They haven't discussed that with me at all. They've not discussed anything, but they've not talked about it.
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Donal: It doesn't seem to be really, it's a consideration, which I think is an important to engage with...
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Andrea: But then wouldn't they have found her if she'd had gone and jumped off the pier with the tides and all this sort of thing. I mean, we've looked into that, we've looked at, we've sort of researched it like and it'd be like, you know, cause there was quite a few last year, there was a few sort of, um…. unidentified women that were on, got washed in at Beachy Head, and one, when it was, uh…. an artist impression and when you looked, you thought it could possibly be Georgina. And then we got people messaging us, and I emailed the police and I said, you know, I said, could you just, like, verify that this person who’s come in at beachy head isn't Georgina? I said, because the, the artist impression it could be, the dark hair, the round face. So, um…. then she just said, I can…. I can tell you that it's not. But that person was never identified because they had a burial last year or might have been this year down at somewhere like Colgate, and this big community got together. And she was never identified...
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Donal: What Andrea describes here is another heart-breaking aspect of the case – every time a body washes up on the beach which is not unusual for this part of the south coast, Andrea is faced with the most distressing of questions – is it my daughter this time? Communication between the police and Andrea in these circumstances was initially very difficult and it’s improved now, to some extent but there have been times when Andrea has had to rely upon news reports for updates or she’s had to phone the police and ask the questions herself. Is it my daughter? Is it Georgina?
And on the topic of communication between Andrea and the police, it appears it’s been strained since the very early days of the investigation, to put it mildly. Andrea often talks of the feeling that she’s an irritant or spoken down to by the police. As we’ve been talking about Georgina’s mental health, I ask Andrea to talk me through the lines of communication that she’s had with police officers and what support she’s been offered.
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Donal: Just to bring us back to the early days, when you started complaining to the police and challenging them, holding them to account for the investigation, they suggested something to you. They suggested counselling for you. Explain what happened.
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Andrea: Uh…. I think I’d sent some quite sort of, you know, angry emails to them. Um…. sort of asking why and why not and asking, you know, what hadn't been done and what had, and, um, sort of when I had the next meeting, um…. one of the deputies said, um…. I suggest you seek some, um…. you know, professional counselling, it might help you.
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Donal: Now, he wasn't a professor, he wasn't a Doctor of Psychology, he didn't have a PhD in forensics, he wasn't a qualified counsellor. He was an officer irritated that you were asking questions and holding them legitimately to account for failures, which we now…. were utterly visible a year later.
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Andrea: I was told that I was sort of upsetting them, the police officers when they came in on a Monday and to come into all the emails and they had to sort of read through my emails and, you know, it was sort of quite a lot for them. I did suggest that they, um…. offer their officers, um… more training on communication with, um…. like people, you know, like sensitive training to families of missing people, cause they obviously didn't have it.
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Donal: Quite clearly you became an irritant.
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Andrea: I felt, I felt, I did say to them several times that I know that I started the email…. Oh, it’s me that annoying person again, just to be sarcastic because I realised that’s what they felt I was, so I sort of started the email with it and then you know, when we had a meeting, it was like, oh no…. you’re not really annoying and that, but can you just try and keep the emails to once every two weeks or…. And I sort of said look I’ve got a missing daughter and I can't wait for two weeks. Well, if we haven't got anything that we…. there's not really…. I said, well, you can just say, well, we haven't got anything just to sort of reassure me.
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Donal: If the price of embarrassing the police is more resources and concentration of time and police energy on this case. Well then so be it, you know, they've earned their embarrassment. They've earned a bit of kicking, but if the price of that is more time and resources on Georgina, then I think it's a price well worth paying. What do you think?
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Andrea: Yeah. Yeah, definitely, Um…. what ...
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Donal: Well, your criticism will definitely embarrass the police, are you worried about that?
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Andrea: Um…. I mean, I didn’t go…. I didn't go out intentionally to criticize, but I just feel it's my daughter and I want to do everything I can to make sure she gets what she should be done, and not like what she deserves, but what should be done in this case. What I feel that some other cases you get, and you read about, and I think, well, this isn't being done here. Um…. even though they say it is. No case is different, and this has been treated as, as a, as, um…. uh, this has been treated…. treated the same as a murder case from the beginning that they've done. They said they've done nothing different, but it doesn't seem like that to us. I mean,
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Donal: The problem is they're supposed to allocate resources according to investigative imperative in this case they haven't. Or if they have, they've done so in a very limited and reductionist, and there's lots of flawed decision-making, which has eliminated the prospect of certain investigative lines of inquiry. So, it's not just a fuzzy feeling here, oh, I feel the police have…. the problem is, they have made chronically bad decisions, limiting and restricting investigations, right to the road where they decided she was last seen, they decided she just evaporated into a car to thin air, and that held back the investigation for six months…. 16 months. And now with the new team, they appear to be re-treading deliberately, reinvestigating, and redoing the work. They appear to be doing that, I mean, is that your sense that they appear to be redoing the work?
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Andrea: That's what I thought when first, when they first had the new Chief and he sort of said, I'd done this and I've done that, and my first reaction was, oh, you're trying to go through it to see what's not been done, Um...and….
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Donal: And did you ask, why was that not done before?
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Donal: And what did he say?
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Andrea: Well, it's the strategy thing and it didn't, we didn't feel it needed to do done, but I'm just going to do this, like the CCTV. I'm just going to do this just as a, as a last, last thing to get the peripheral CCTV. I mean, just, you know, just might be a chance that anything he said, so I've asked for that. And I said, well, why wasn't that? Oh, it's the outside CCTV. So, I thought it was like on the outskirts of right, right on the outskirts of Worthing. Not on, in, in town, sorry, Um…. not as near as that. So, I was quite shocked when they showed us and he said, you know, do you think this is Georgina? And we all looked and said, yes, where's that from? Oh, well this came off the peripheral CCTV, that they've, they've been looking at for the past few months.
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Donal: But peripheral CCTV in the centre of the town. So, I mean, the reality is they keep saying, oh well, I'm doing, I'm just looking, I'm widening the parameters, like be grateful and so the point of matter is, why don't you accept, you make all your decisions, and primary investigative decisions, parameters in the investigation, you got wrong and were wrong, right. And what they're doing is doing a shadow re-investigation and cold case in the recognition that so much has gone wrong before, but unless they admit it, but they're so worried about upsetting people inside, I don't care whether they upset or embarrassed professionally embarrass, their colleagues. I only care about them doing a job and reclaiming this investigation and finding Georgina.
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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.
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Donal: ‘Murder, 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.
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