The heart-broken family of missing hiker Esther Dingley have called for help to find her, saying: ‘we just want her back’.
In a joint statement, partner Daniel Colegate and mother Maria ‘Ria’ Bryant said they were utterly distraught three weeks after Dingley, 37, disappeared while hiking across the Pyrenees mountains.
They said: ‘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.’
The heart-broken family of missing hiker Esther Dingley (right) have called for help to find her, saying: ‘we just want her back’. In a joint statement, partner Daniel Colegate (left) and mother Maria ‘Ria’ Bryant said they were utterly distraught three weeks after Dingley disappeared while hiking across the Pyrenees mountains
Colegate, 38, and mother Ria said Dingley’s absence was ‘utterly out of character’ and they wanted to counter speculation that she had planned her own disappearance.
They said: ‘It is utterly out of character for her to be out of contact for this length of time and we are missing her desperately.
‘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.’
Experienced hiker Dingley was last seen on 22 November high in the Pyrenees as she made her way up to the summit of the Pic Sauveguard mountain. She sent Colegate, her partner of 19 years, a selfie from the top.
He reported her missing to the police three days later on 25 November after losing contact.
He said: ‘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.’
Colegate has dismissed French police claims that she may have deliberately disappeared because she feared her nomadic lifestyle was about to end
French Gendarme Captain Jean-Marc Bordinaro has told MailOnline the couple’s life together was not as idyllic as their Facebook page suggested.
But Colegate countered: ‘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…’
Dingley’s mother 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.’
Colegate said he had also been upset by reports which stated [correctly] that he had been questioned several times by the police about Dingley’s disappearance.
He said: ‘During the first six days I spoke every day with both police search teams to coordinate my own hiking activities and get updates.
‘When it became a criminal case, I was then interviewed by the Spanish criminal investigation team on Wednesday 2nd December.
‘The French criminal investigation team visited me at the house on Monday 7th December. 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.’
Colegate described Dingley as his soul mate and revealed he had been upset by being portrayed as her ‘boyfriend’ despite being together for 19 years. The couple met while both studying at Oxford University.
He said: ‘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.’
He revealed the couple had always planned to spend two weeks apart following an intense summer together.
Colegate said: ‘This summer we did a 1,000-mile hike together and we always planned to spend two 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.
Colegate, pictured here with Dingley, said he found it difficult to believe that the experienced hiker might have had an accident as the terrain and weather were favourable despite the time of year
‘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.
Colegate added that Dingley was an experienced hiker and well prepared to make the solo-trip from Spain to France.
He said: ‘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’.
Grainy CCTV footage (pictured) – the last recorded movements of Ms Dingley – showed her apparently querying the price of seeds with the store manager
‘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.’
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.’