The Woman Who Should Have Been Found
Police admit Georgina Gharsallah’s homicide case was full of mistakes from the outset.
Georgina Gharsallah via BBC.co.uk
On the 7th of March 2018, the 30-year-old mother of two, Georgina Gharsallah, went into town to run errands like any other day. She visited the JobCentre to look for new work opportunities and went to a phone shop. She was recorded on CCTV in the phone shop in Worthing, West Sussex, on the south coast of England, but after this stop, she vanished on a busy street during the day and hasn’t been seen since.
Georgina’s last conversation was with her mother, Andrea, who recalled that her daughter’s phone was broken, which was her reason for going into town. Georgina had recently moved back in with her mother after ending the relationship with her boyfriend and father of her two sons.
She was supposed to meet her dad, Gasem, after collecting her new phone, but she didn’t show up. Andrea thought her daughter was at her ex-boyfriend’s home, but when Georgina didn’t reply to any of her messages, and her boyfriend confirmed he hadn’t seen her, Andrea called the police.
Her mother said that the police weren’t initially concerned about Georgina’s disappearance. Still, when they realised that her phone and bank cards hadn’t been used since the 7th of March, the day she vanished, they began to take her disappearance seriously. They also discovered that Georgina never made it to the JobCentre. After 17 days of investigation, police escalated her case from a missing person to a possible major crime and Operation Pavo was formed.
Twenty-seven areas were searched, 60 sightings of Georgina were followed up, 427 officer’s reports were written, and 484 police actions were raised. Yet, Georgina was still missing.
In April, a witness came forward claiming they had seen Georgina with two men near her mother’s home on the day she went missing. The men were arrested and later released, however, the police themselves have admitted to a ‘botched’ investigation.
Map of Georgina’s movements via dailymail.co.uk
Andrea Gharsallah told the BBC, “The worst thing about this whole situation is not knowing anything. There’s just nothing. It’s like grieving, but it doesn’t stop. We feel a bit let down by the police.”
The family was given several hypotheses around Georgina’s disappearance, ranging from human trafficking to suicide to murder. However, despite the reported 60 sightings of Georgina, none of the leads came to anything.
In March 2019, a year after her daughter went missing, Andrea Gharsallah started a petition, asking for Worthing Borough Council to halt their plans for Teville Gate, a redevelopment in town, as she believed Georgina’s body could be there.
Teville Gate before demolition via sussexlocal.net
The demolition of the area started a few days before Georgina went missing and was a vast area full of rubble and industrial equipment. Building stopped on the development recently due to funding falling through, but Worthing Borough Council has since stepped in to help with funds. Once finished, the area will include over 300 apartments, a hotel, food store, gym and shops.
Georgina’s image became part of Unmissable, an art exhibition showcasing missing people in the UK and raising awareness of the ongoing issue.
Georgina’s image as part of the Unmissable exhibition via Rebecca Fontaine Wolf
In August 2019, Georgina’s case was changed from a missing person to a homicide, and the police confirmed that they would continue to look for her. Crimestoppers UK amended the reward from £5,000 to £10,000 a few months later in the hope of reinstating interest in the disappearance, but no new sightings were reported.
Andrea Gharsallah feared her daughter might have been taken for sex trafficking,
“Georgina was a trusting person, who took everyone at face value. But she could also be naive. I believe she could have been abducted, or even trafficked into the sex trade.”
Later that month, an account linked to Georgina’s handheld PlayStation showed a transaction for £7.99. This update in the case made Georgina’s family hire investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre to look into the matter. If one debit payment had been made, surely there had been others, which had been overlooked.
A year later and there was still no sign of Georgina. Andrea appeared on Crimewatch and This Morning in the hope of raising more awareness around her daughter’s disappearance. Still, no legitimate information was collected from the shows, despite the increased reward from Crimestoppers UK.
Andrea Gharsallah and Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell on Crimewatch via BBC
In September 2020, Georgina’s family claimed that Sussex Police had made 27 ‘key failings’ in the case. In the Daily Mail article, Andrea Gharsallah said the investigation had been broken from the start, “‘We put our trust in Sussex Police but they failed us and neglected the investigation and our family. My daughter’s investigation should never have been a learning curve to the police.”
The article claimed that security footage was not reviewed for over a year and that sections of CCTV had been lost without any explanation. There were also issues with resources and roles within the investigation team, and Georgina was not placed on the Interpol watch list for nearly 18 months, which would have helped find her if she had travelled to another country.
“On September 8 when hearing the results of the review meeting we learned that failings were made with my daughter’s case by Sussex Police. What a shocking thing to hear. The police have completely failed to take my daughter’s case seriously.”
Police Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll was brought in to help the investigation and said he had concerns about current investigative methods being used, claiming if Georgina had blue eyes, a different name and was middle class, the situation would have been handled differently.
“The family has been wronged and Georgina didn’t get the investigation she deserved. The investigation needs to be completely recommissioned from start to finish.”
Georgina grew up in Libya with her mother and twin sisters. When she was 10, they moved to Brighton, East Sussex, where Georgina’s mother met her husband, Gasem Gharsallah and relocated 12 miles along the coast to Worthing.
Driscoll’s role in the case is to investigate Sussex Police, as he did with the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder back in 1993. In September last year, it was announced that the Independent Office of Police Conduct would investigate the Sussex Police due to their failings in Georgina’s disappearance.
Georgina is still missing and is being treated as a high-risk missing person but also a potential homicide. There has been no new evidence since the bill on the PlayStation console, and the Teville Gate building site is yet to be searched.
Investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre and National Crime Agency detective Andy Crocker will also be releasing a podcast, where they speak about Georgina’s disappearance and potential homicide and how the case has been handled.
Georgina Gharsallah is 5ft 4ins tall, with long dark hair, and she would now be 33 years old.
“My daughter has been missing for 132 weeks, 921 days. It feels like a lifetime for us, especially Georgia’s children, 921 days of wondering what happened, how and where. It’s a constant battle and we had to try and keep positive — we feel devastation. We have no idea if she is still alive, if she suffered, or where she may be.”
If you have any information, you can contact Crimestoppers UK.
Georgina Gharsallah via Crimestoppers UK.