The partner of a British hiker missing in the Pyrenees has hit out at “deeply upsetting” claims she disappeared on purpose in search of a new life.
Esther Dingley, 37, vanished from Port de la Glere in late November while on a solo trek along the French-Spanish border.
She had been travelling across Europe in a campervan with her partner Dan Colegate since 2014, with the couple setting off on separate final trips before they were due to return to the UK.
Mr Colegate, her partner of 19 years, said it is “utterly out of character” for her to be out of contact for so long.
Rubbishing claims the couple were not happy, he said they “communicated several times a day”, adding that he found any reports otherwise “baffling”.
“Our last conversation was totally loving and all smiles. She was so happy and we were excited to see each other,” he said in a statement via charity LBT Global – formally the Lucie Blackman Trust.
He claimed that the pair had always planned to do the final stretch of their travels separately.
“This summer we did a 1,000-mile hike together and we always planned to spend two weeks doing our own thing. We knew it was good for us as individuals and for our relationship,” he added.
Still recovering from a serious illness, Mr Colegate said he wanted to “relax in a house due to my health issues”, while his partner “wanted to do some more outdoor things”.
Her mother Rita added that she is an “open book” and was happy before she disappeared.
After he revealed police are investigating “options beyond a mountain accident”, Mr Colegate stressed he is “cooperating fully” with them and has been interviewed by French and Spanish authorities.
LBT Global’s chief executive Matthew Searle MBE urged people not to speculate, and to instead contact police with any relevant information.
“There is a huge amount of interest in this case and we have had hundreds of enquiries,” 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. Making assumptions and spreading unconfirmed assumptions is unhelpful and unfair.”
Ms Dingley’s partner said he last spoke to her on 22 November.
On that day, Spanish Olympic skier Marti Vigo del Arco claims he saw her heading up a mountain at around 3pm, which is the last known sighting of her.
He told Sky News it was unusual to begin hiking at that time of day, but the conditions were good and she seemed prepared.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says it is assisting Ms Dingley’s family.