Missing person Georgina Gharsallah has been gone for two years: this is what life is like for her mother
The second anniversary of missing Worthing mum Georgina Gharsallah’s disappearance is on Saturday. A milestone no-one will be celebrating. But it is an opportunity for the public to be reminded of the case – an opportunity her determined mother Andrea hopes will finally lead to answers.
Andrea Gharsallah leads a busy life: juggling night shifts as a carer, looking after her two grandsons by day and training for the Brighton Marathon.
This alone would be a lot for most people to cope with. But there is one unwelcome facet of her life that looms over all others: the disappearance of her 32-year-old daughter Georgina.
Thoughts of what happened to Georgina – who was last seen two years ago on Saturday in an off-licence in Clifton Road, Worthing – and what she can do to find her are a constant static undercutting Andrea’s thoughts. And it never goes away. In fact, it has become louder.
She said: “Lots of people say that it must get easier, like with grief... but it doesn’t, because we haven’t got an end with this, like when someone dies. We don’t know what happened. Sometimes it gets worse.
“It has become part of our lives, and we don’t know if it is going to end. It is quite daunting to think I could spend the rest of my life like this, seeking answers.
“It is all I seem to do. I think: ‘This is it. This is what it is going to be like’.”
She added: “When you read other people’s stories about these children being missing for 25 or 30 years, I just think we are only two years in and it feels this bad. How would it feel then?”
When we spoke, Andrea was sat in the living room of her home in Normandy Road, Worthing. Dominating one wall was a large framed painting of Georgina gifted to her by artist Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf, which featured in an exhibition organised by the Missing People charity last year.
She had some information printed out she wanted to give me, and began searching through stacks of paper, folders filled with information about the family’s campaign and photos of Georgina: her dining table a makeshift headquarters for the search effort.
Finally, she found it – details of a Brighton-based artist called Msdre who had designed new posters for Andrea to spread across Worthing and replace the blue posters and banners that have become part of the town’s scenery.
They form part of the main weapon in Andrea’s arsenal. Publicity. TV appearances; the Missing Person – Georgina Gharsallah Facebook page she runs, which has more than 6,000 followers; the national and local media; an upcoming podcast by investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre.
But as memories fade, the 58-year-old has to fight harder to get people to pay attention.
“I still get people saying to me ‘we haven’t seen this before’ and I just find it unbelievable; how much stuff we have done and publicity we have got, and people still haven’t heard of the story,” she said.
Increasingly, it is a fight she has felt she is doing alone. As leads in the investigation stagnated, her criticisms of Sussex Police have mounted – culminating in her writing an open letter to Chief Constable Giles York demanding answers over how officers have handled CCTV sightings and witness testimony.
And in her own pursuit of leads, she has taken more unorthodox routes, such as lending some of Georgina’s possessions to a psychic.
Unsurprisingly, this did not result in a lead.
But Andrea’s resolve has not wavered.
“I suppose you get a bit stronger,” she said. “I think a lot of people think I’m falling apart and crying all the time, but if I was like that I wouldn’t be able to do everything I do.”
This is put to the test whenever an unidentified body is found locally. About two weeks ago, one was found on a beach near Climping, Andrea said – and she found out that Andy Wolstenholme, the officer in charge of Georgina’s case, was attending the post mortem.
All those emotions rushed to the foreground, and it was a nerve-wracking few days until the family were told it was a man’s body.
She said: “I wondered, what could be worse: us finding out it is Georgina or never ever knowing what happened to her.
“In the end, I thought it was probably better it wasn’t Georgina, because then I still have that little bit of hope.”
This hope gives her the strength to look after Georgina’s two boys, aged nine and 10, and will be felt at the vigil she is holding to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance outside the Guildbourne Centre, at 6pm on Saturday.
Whenever I interview her, I ask Andrea what she would want to say to Georgina if she was reading the article. Her answer until now has largely been the same, and it is the obvious: “Please contact us, please come home.”
But this time, Andrea stops herself. “I just can’t imagine she would be sitting somewhere watching us go through all this knowing how distressing it is.
“But there is always a possibility. There is a possibility of anything.
“If she is: we love you. That is the most important thing. We love you, and so do your boys.”