The number of people reported missing in London has skyrocketed in the last 10 years, with the capital's police force last month describing the figure as "absolutely unsustainable". About 55,000 people go missing each year in London – a 72% increase on a decade ago – and while most (80%) people return or are found within 24 hours, what happens to the remaining 20% is less certain.
When a person is reported missing they are labelled as low, medium or high risk, with someone whose disappearance is out of character receiving a higher classification. There's a multitude of reasons why someone might go missing but according to the Missing Persons Bureau, the most common explanations for an adult to vanish are home stresses, relationship and financial problems.
Thirty-year-old Georgina Gharsallah left her mother's house in Worthing, West Sussex, on the morning of 7th March this year and is yet to return. The last sighting of Georgina, whose 31st birthday was last month, was recorded on CCTV at a local mobile phone shop, and it's now been seven months since she was last in touch with family and friends. The police describe Georgina as white, 5ft 4in, with shoulder-length dark hair and a piercing above her lip. To the people who love her she is a gregarious, devoted daughter, sister and friend. Ahead, Georgina's mother, Andrea, shares her story with Refinery29.
I last saw George, as we call her, downstairs at home on the morning of 7th March. She was sitting on the floor doing her hair and I was getting ready for work. It must've been half seven or quarter to eight. She said she had some things to do in town: to go to the job centre, and her phone wasn’t working so I gave her mine to get a sim card for, which is where the story of her being in a phone shop came from. And that was it. She asked me for a couple of pounds, said "See you later" and that was the last time I spoke to and saw her.
It didn’t surprise me when she wasn't there that evening because she’d recently split up with her boyfriend – so had come back to live with me a month before – and had spent most of the previous week at his house. I didn’t think anything of it for a couple of days. I’d sent her messages, but Georgina is the type of girl to send you messages in the middle of the night, and when I didn’t hear back we all just assumed she was at his house. That’s how my daughters and I saw it – it didn’t come into my mind that she was missing or that anything had happened to her. Each day we’d casually ask each other, "Have you heard from George?" but we didn’t think anything of it.
It wasn’t until five or six days [since she was last seen] that her boyfriend contacted me and asked if I’d heard from her. I said "No, I thought she was with you". He said he hadn’t seen her for 10 days. I didn’t really know what to say. My initial thought was that maybe she’d met someone else. She has lots of friends and ex-boyfriends who she's still friends with, and will sometimes have drinks with. That's normal for her, so I just thought she’d done that. I knew they hadn’t had a good month, having split up, so I didn’t know what to say to him.
By the time we reported it to the police it had been 10 days since she went missing. We said we’d leave it until the weekend to report in case she turned up, and then when she didn’t we thought something wasn’t right, we’d left it long enough. Now, I regret leaving it as long, because they say the sooner you report it [the more chance of them being found]. We were in touch with the police a lot in the first four to five months but after about six months it became less frequent.
We'd email the police and they'd say they would contact us if they had anything new. Even if they didn't have anything, they should have been updating us regularly. After six months they gave us a family liaison officer. The police said we were taking up too much of the team’s time by emailing – but it was three or four emails a week. I thought the family liaison officer would be easier to contact but it was harder because there were two of them and their shifts were unpredictable.
People say, 'Maybe she just went off and decided she wants a new life', but I don’t believe that.
Seven months on and there are no new leads – nothing at all. The search is at a complete standstill – it’s like we’re at a brick wall and there’s nothing. We haven’t had any CCTV sightings since the last day she went missing. When she came out of that shop she turned right and was never seen again. Somebody would have seen her, surely, but I’ve put out so many posters and Facebook messages now, and nobody has. A few people have been in touch but it turned out not to be what they thought.
Georgina is really friendly and outgoing but also has anxiety issues. Sometimes she didn’t like going out by herself but she’s very outgoing too, especially if she’s had a drink – she’ll make friends and talk to anybody. That’s what worries me, because I know how friendly and personable she is. She accumulates friends wherever she goes. She’s quite excitable, too – once she gets something in her mind she’ll keep on and on about it. I’m close with all of my daughters. That’s why I find it so hard. People say, "Maybe she just went off and decided she wants a new life", but I don’t believe that. Her safety is the most important thing to me – I just want to know she’s safe and tell her how much we miss her and love her.
I’m not sleeping very well. I’m constantly thinking, all day and all night. I think about it during the day when I’m at work. I’m always thinking about other ways we could find her, where else we could put posters and where else we could send the police. It’s a mother’s drive of thinking What else can I do? I used to run quite a lot, marathons, and I’ve dropped out of so many that as the months go on I think I can’t do that, I hardly run now. Instead, I’m putting up posters and doing interviews. I feel guilty for doing anything else – when my other daughter asked me out for dinner I thought I shouldn’t be having a nice time because I don’t know where Georgina is. That’s how it is – it’s taken over my whole life.
People always say to us, "Fingers crossed she’ll be home soon" but what a stupid thing to say. We don’t know what’s happened to her, she might not even be alive. Or they’ll say, "Hopefully you get some news soon" – it’s all very blasé. They’ll say to me, "Maybe she was just fed up with life and decided she wanted a change" or "She’s 30, she’s an adult and can make up her own mind". I just say, "She’s my daughter and I won’t stop looking until I know she’s safe". I don’t think many people understand what it’s like – you can’t unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
To me now, every missing person counts – I didn’t think about it before that much. It’s not until you’re involved in a missing person case yourself that you really feel it. It doesn’t matter about their background or anything – they’re missing regardless of whatever they do or whatever they’ve done. That’s an important message for everybody. Everybody deserves to be found or looked for, at least.
Missing People is an independent charity and a lifeline to the 250,000 people who go missing each year in the UK, and to their families and friends left behind. With support from partners including players of People’s Postcode Lottery, it operates a free and confidential 24-hour helpline providing advice and guidance to anybody who is missing or away from home, as well as practical and emotional support to those dealing with the heartbreak of missing a loved one.
Anyone affected by the issue can call the helpline on 116000.