Esther Dingley: Missing Briton was experienced hiker and loved life

Esther Dingley: Missing Briton was experienced hiker and loved life

A British hiker missing in the Pyrenees was an experienced walker who was happy with life, her family have said.

The search for Esther Dingley, 37, began after she failed to return from a solo trek as planned on 25 November.

She last communicated with her partner of 19 years Dan Colegate via Whatsapp on 22 November when she was atop Pic de Sauvegarde on the Spain-France border.

Mr Colegate has dismissed media reports that she was unhappy, which seemingly stem from a French police source.

Ms Dingley had been travelling alone in the couple’s campervan for a month while he stayed at a French vineyard, the pair having given up their home in Durham to tour Europe in 2014.

Mr Colegate said: “We spoke every day, the time apart worked as we expected, and we were very joyful when we spoke.

“The hike she went missing on was to be her last before driving back. Our last conversation was totally loving and all smiles. She was so happy, and we were excited to see each other.

“Why the police [officer] who spoke to a journalist implied ‘things weren’t as happy as they looked’ baffles me.

“I have never spoken to the person quoted.”

Mr Colegate also said claims he had been “quizzed” multiple times by police were a misrepresentation of the numerous meetings he has had with both French and Spanish police to provide information.

Ms Dingley’s mother Ria described her daughter as an “open book” and said while the couple may have faced some “difficult decisions” about continuing their touring after Brexit, “that didn’t dampen her joy for the life they both were living”.

She 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.”

Mr Colegate said it was normal for the couple to spend time apart but that they also enjoyed their trips together, which included a 1,000 mile hike in the summer.

He described Ms Dingley as a “very experienced” mountain hiker who always kept him updated with her planned routes.

Mr Colegate said: “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.

“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.”

Police have previously said they are looking at all options including “non-accidental” ones.

Ms Dingley’s family is now being supported by LBT Global, formerly the Lucie Blackman Trust, which assists relatives of missing people abroad.

Chief executive Matthew Searle MBE called for a “swift end” to speculation about what has happened to Ms Dingley.

He said: “Our priority is supporting Esther’s loved ones through this traumatic time and it is clear they are deeply upset at some of the speculation.

“Spreading unconfirmed assumptions is unhelpful and unfair, as well as deeply upsetting for those closest to Esther.”

Searches for Ms Dingley have been suspended due to bad weather and both French and Spanish police say they are investigating her disappearance.

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