THE partner of missing hiker Esther Dingley has suggested she may have had a run-in with a hunter or someone who saw “an opportunity when encountering a lone female hiker”.

Ms Dingley and her partner Dan Colegate, from Durham, had been travelling throughout Europe since 2014.

The 37-year-old was walking solo in the Pyrenees, on the France-Spain border, when she vanished.

Mr Colegate has said that he spoke to his partner every day and that her walk on November 22, when she was last seen, was to be her final excursion before returning home.

A large scale search operation began at first-light the day after she was reported missing and has included highly trained search teams, helicopters and dogs.

With no trace of Miss Dingley, Mr Colegate says it is possible that someone with a weapon could have forced someone into a vehicle.  

A dossier of the case compiled by Mr Colegate and issued by the Lucie Blackman Trust (LBT), which supports the families of missing people, states: "At times literally dozens of search and rescue personnel were walking the trails looking for any trace of Esther or her equipment.  

"The focus of the search was Esther’s last known location, planned route and nearby alternatives, with searchers sweeping back and forth over the hillside away from the trails, literally looking under large rocks and descending into crevices in the landscape. "

The Northern Echo:

Pic de Sauvegarde, which Esther Dingley is thought to have climbed twice on her excursion 

Mr Colegate spoke to French and Spanish teams every day, providing information on her preferences, ability, hiking pace and communication habits, and walked and searched the French hillsides around her last known location alone so he could continue outside of standard search and rescue hours.

French police have said the cause of her going missing likely falls under three categories - accident, voluntary disappearance, or someone else being involved.

The dossier states: “Accidents can happen to anyone of course, but these paths are all well within Esther’s capabilities.

“She had successfully gone up and down the same peak the previous day. If she had found it hard, she wouldn’t have gone back alone.

“Esther is adventurous but not a gratuitous risk taker.”

The Northern Echo:

Most of the trails she walked are like this

The Northern Echo:

The most demanding sections were the focus of intense searches

Mr Colegate added that Ms Dingley is a very experienced hiker who had ample supplies with her, but no trace of her has been found.

The Northern Echo:

Regarding the possibility of voluntary disappearance, the dossier said: “This is totally out of character, in every way.

“Also, Esther has no motive or means to do so. She hasn’t accessed any funds. There were no large cash withdrawals in the weeks leading up to her trip.

“Finally, she was already doing her own thing as part of her usual relationship with Dan. She didn’t need to vanish to get time to herself.”

The Northern Echo:

It is not known if she reached the winter bunkhouse, Refuge de Venasque, which provides unmanned, free shelter 

It added there has been no reported sightings of her despite significant media coverage and missing person reports.

At the time, France was under national lockdown and exercise was meant to be taken within 1km of someone’s home.

The document adds: “However, that doesn’t mean that nobody could have been up there, and that somebody who was breaking the rules didn’t see an opportunity when encountering a lone female hiker.

“With the additional knowledge that nobody else should be nearby and so close to a road, an individual with a weapon could feasibly force somebody back to their vehicle.

“At the time of Esther’s disappearance it was supposed to be hunting season.

“In such a mountainous location, there is no practical way to police anybody choosing to ignore the Covid restrictions.

“This is not to say Esther was harmed by a hunter, just that the possibility of Esther encountering an individual with a weapon remains.

“Given that the intensive search found no trace of her, this is why the criminal investigation is absolutely necessary.”

The Northern Echo: Esther Dingley

Mr Colegate said his partner of 19 years is the “best person I’ve ever met”.

He said: "She is kind, generous, compassionate, intelligent and creative. She wears her heart on her sleeve and always sees the best in others.  

"There is a reason Esther has a first class Oxford degree and represented Great Britain as a junior rower, among her many other material achievements that came from her determination and resourcefulness.

"Yet none of those achievements are the reason I love her so much.

"The real reason, the one that drew me in almost 19 years ago and sustained us both through the ups and downs of any normal relationship, is her unwavering goodness and commitment to doing what she feels is right."

The Northern Echo:

He added: “Since Esther went missing I have been lost in a world that no longer makes sense to me. Every aspect of my life and the future I dream of includes Esther.

“I never imagined that one day she would not come home. Many times we had discussed how we would grow old together and take slow walks reflecting on the adventures of our youth.

“The pain of her disappearance is excruciating, but even that pales into insignificance against the pain of not knowing what’s happened to her.”

The Northern Echo:

The blue line is intended to roughly indicate the scope of the search area as shown to Dan Colegate by the search coordinators at the time of the search. It is not an official report from the police teams responsible for the search

Having looked at the possible explanations for Miss Dingley's disappearance, the dosier states the accident theory cannot be further investigated at the moment due to the weather, the voluntary disappearance theory makes no sense due to lack of both motive and means, and the idea somebody else was involved remains possible but physical evidence is lacking due to the remote location.  
It says the police need individuals with information to come forward. 

The LBT Global Hotline is on +44 (0) 800 098 8485, or the charity can be contacted on WhatsApp on +44 (0) 7545 826 497 or by email