The family of a missing mother-of-two have accused a police force of making ’27 key failings’ in its investigation into her disappearance.
Georgina Gharsallah vanished after leaving her mother’s West Sussex home in March 2018. The investigation was upgraded to a murder probe last August.
Her mother Andrea fears the 30-year-old has been murdered or sex trafficked and said her family have since been forced to become the ‘lead investigators’.
Mrs Gharsallah said it was ‘a role in which no mother or sister should be placed or want’, adding: ‘My daughter’s investigation should never have been a learning curve to the police.’
The family identified a string of failings including key CCTV footage not being reviewed for more than a year, and a failure to place Georgina on an Interpol watchlist for more than 18 months.
They also say nine potentially significant segments of CCTV were lost by Sussex Police, ‘without explanation.’
A former Met Police inspector claims the probe would have been handled differently if Georgina ‘had blue eyes and was middle class’.
Georgina Gharsallah vanished after leaving her mother’s West Sussex home in March 2018
The last sighting of mother-of-two Ms Gharsallah on the day she vanished was in a mobile phone shop
Her mother Andrea fears the 30-year-old has been murdered or sex trafficked and said her family have since been forced to become the ‘lead investigators’
Timeline: How mother-of-two vanished without a trace and key failings in police investigation
APRIL 27, 2018: Ms Garsallah moved back in with her mother after she split up with her boyfriend.
MARCH 7, 2018: Georgina Gharsallah left her mother’s house. She said her phone was not working and planned to go to the phone shop, then the job centre before meeting her father
9.30am: CCTV footage showed Georgina leaving the Clifton Food and Wine off licence store in Clifton Road, Worthing
11am: Her family said all contact with her mobile phone ended at 11am and to ‘all intents and purposes she has vanished off the face of the earth’
4pm: CCTV footage of a woman that looked like Georgina with another woman carrying bags in Chapel Road. This CCTV was only recently found by police
MARCH 17: Georgina is first reported missing to police
Three weeks later, police discovered her bank cards had not been used either and began treating her case as suspicious. Andrea’s home was searched by police, and officers also investigated Georgina’s ex-boyfriend and other contacts in her phone before clearing all of them of being involved.
APRIL 20, 2018: A witness claimed they saw Georgina with two men in Worthing, between 7 and 8pm on the day she went missing. This account has now been discredited by the police.
MARCH 2019: Georgina’s mother calls for town centre redevelopment to be halted so the site can be searched after her daughter was reportedly seen there with two men
AUGUST: Sussex Police said they were now treating Georgina’s disappearance as a homicide, but would continue to search for her.
OCTOBER: Crimestoppers said it had increased the reward to £10,000 ‘in the hope of encouraging someone’ to come forward
MARCH 2020: Andrea appeared on This Morning and Crimewatch Roadshow
APRIL: Worthing Herald newspaper and Sussex Police received a ransom note from fraudsters claiming to have Georgina
AUGUST: An account linked to Ms Gharsallah’s handheld PlayStation console is billed £7.99. Police launch investigation
SEPTEMBER: The 30-year-old’s family held a press conference on September 16 after enlisting the help of investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre.
OCTOBER 2020: Family to meet Chief Constable Jo Shiner at police headquarters on October 2 to discuss the investigation.
Ms Gharsallah’s father Gasem, a managing director, is from Libya while her mother Andrea is from Sussex.
She lived with her parents and three siblings in Libya before the family moved back to Brighton – where her parents met – when she was 10.
In 2018, Ms Garsallah had moved back in with her mother – ten days before she went missing – after splitting from her boyfriend.
The 30-year-old, who had two young sons under the age of ten, was last seen on CCTV in a local shop in Worthing in West Sussex on 7 March, 2018, with ‘a number of mobile phones’.
She was reported missing to Sussex Police on 17 March and has not accessed her phone, social media accounts or withdrew any cash from her bank account since she vanished.
Two men were arrested on suspicion of murder after a witness saw Ms Gharsallah talking to two men in Worthing, on the evening of March 7.
They were later released with no further action.
Ms Gharsallah’s family held a press conference yesterday after enlisting the help of investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre.
Her mother Andrea, who cares for nuns at a local convent, yesterday discussed the internal review held by Sussex Police into its handling of her case.
She said an account linked to Ms Gharsallah’s handheld PlayStation console was billed £7.99 three weeks ago, which is now being investigated.
Mrs Gharsallah said police are now trying to contact Sony to get more information about the IP address – but claims detectives should have been monitoring this, rather than leaving her to find the bill and investigate.
Sussex Police has referred its handling of the case to its own professional standards department, but the family say the IOPC police watchdog should look into it instead.
The family wants a new team led by the National Crime Agency to start from scratch and investigate Georgina’s disappearance.
A team of investigators working for the family claim police made more than 80 failings in their investigation, and are calling for a wider review into these alleged mistakes – including a supposed failure to flag Georgina’s bank accounts.
Mrs Gharsallah said: ‘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.
‘We have no idea if she is still alive, if she suffered, or where she may be.
‘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.
‘The majority of CCTV was lost with some not even checked until a year later.
‘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.’
They are being backed by former Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, who played a vital role in securing two convictions in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.
He said he is ‘really concerned’ the investigation would have been treated differently if Ms Gharsallah ‘had blue eyes, was middle class and had a different name’.
He added: ‘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.
‘It appears that some of the mistakes made by the Met Police Service – highlighted in the McPherson review into Stephen Lawrence’s murder – have been made by the Sussex Police.
‘There needs to be an IOPC investigation into these failings. Only for the dedication and determination of one mother, Andrea, have these failings come to light.’
The mother-of-two was last seen on CCTV in a mobile phone shop in Worthing in West Sussex on 7 March, 2018, with ‘a number of mobile phones’
Ms Gharsallah was reported missing to Sussex Police on 17 March and has not accessed her phone, social media accounts or withdrew any cash from her bank account since she vanished. The investigation last year became a murder probe
Police described Ms Gharsallah as 5ft 2in tall, with shoulder-length dark hair, often worn in a top knot with a piercing above her left lip
String of alleged failures in murder probe
Georgina’s family claim the alleged failings in the Sussex Police investigation include:
- Key CCTV footage related to the disappearance of Georgina was not reviewed until a year after her disappearance.
- Nine potentially significant segments of CCTV were lost by the force without explanation.
- The force’s early search for CCTV in any event was too limited in area and late.
- Twenty seven key failings in the investigation were uncovered in an internal review.
- The review itself was 18 months overdue.
- Nobody in the investigating team were sure of their respective roles.
- Officers did not take responsibility for key tasks.
- There were issues with oversight and resources.
- No reason or explanation was available for the failure to place Georgina on the Interpol watch list for more than 18 months after her disappearance.
The family conducted independent searches without police assistance and conducted their own video reconstruction of Georgina’s last steps, as well as operating their own crime incident room.
A £10,000 reward is on offer for information surrounding Georgina’s disappearance.
In March, Chief Inspector Andy Wolstenhome said Georgina’s social media and financial activity stopped when she disappeared.
He added: ‘It is for this reason I am led to believe there is not an innocent reason for her disappearance.’
A Sussex Police spokesman said: ‘A full review of Sussex Police’s investigation into the disappearance of Georgina Gharsallah has been completed by the Surrey and Sussex Crime Review Team.
‘And we have shared our findings and recommendations with Georgina’s family.’
Sussex Police claims it did not make 27 ‘key failings’ in its investigation.
But the force admitted: ‘The review found that, whilst initial enquiries were proportionate and the investigation was escalated appropriately with comprehensive enquiries taking place, there were significant missed opportunities in one aspect.
‘The investigation strand focusing on CCTV, with the parameters not being reviewed in the light of new information, some CCTV footage not being secured and some of the CCTV that was collected not being viewed in a timely manner.
‘This means that some CCTV was not potentially secured or viewed in sufficient time and was then lost to the investigation.
‘It is impossible to say, with any certainty, whether or not this would have made a tangible difference to the progress of the investigation as the CCTV can no longer be viewed and we have been open and honest with Georgina’s family on this issue.
The spokeswoman added: ‘Sussex Police will consider a voluntary referral to the IOPC after discussing this matter further with Georgina’s family.’
Police described Ms Gharsallah as 5ft 2in tall, with shoulder-length dark hair, often worn in a top knot with a piercing above her left lip, adding she has ‘Arabian features and speaks Arabic among friends’.
- If you have any information about Georgina Gharsallah’s disappearance, contact Sussex Police; or Crimestoppers on 0800-555 111 or at crimestoppers-uk.org