Georgina Gharsallah: reporter involved in ransom note police operation reveals what happened

Georgina Gharsallah has been missing for almost 18 months
Georgina Gharsallah has been missing for almost 18 months

A ransom note for missing Worthing woman Georgina Gharsallah led to a large police response, which involved our reporter James Butler. Here, he tells of his involvement in the incident.

As I logged into my emails on that Sunday morning, I was expecting the weekend shift to be busy as usual.

But when I saw 'Georgina Gharsallah- 603 of 17/03 Ransom' in our paper's inbox, my heart leaped.

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Having covered her disappearance from the beginning, I immediately knew the significance of what I was reading - and my first instinct was to call 101.

Fast forward through several calls with officers of increasing seniority, and I was called to the police's Worthing headquarters in Centenary House, Durrington, so we could formulate a joint response to the 'hostage takers'.

I worked with an officer from Hastings who was also on call that weekend - and sat in Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell's office, we drafted a reply to the email which included a mobile number the criminals could speak to me on.

I was given a basic mobile phone, which I had to keep charged and glued to my side for the full 72 hours, and was told what to say if they called: an incredibly nerve-wracking prospect.

The key information was to find out where they were, what they wanted and proof they had Georgina and that she was still alive.

Meanwhile, the force's IT teams used data from the email to track down where it was sent from.

While that call never came, the whole incident was taken incredibly seriously and with the utmost professionalism by Sussex Police.

Speaking to an officer involved in the case, they said the force had such a high volume of sightings of Georgina they had to sift through, including psychics claiming to have seen her.

They added that the cost of dealing with this particular email alone would run into tens of thousands of pounds.

With resources already stretched, an email like this is just one more waste of time and money the police force cannot afford.

But more importantly, these callous criminals took advantage of a family desperate to find their mother, daughter and sister while coolly hiding behind a keyboard.

(Video: Interview with Andrea Gharsallah, Georgina's mother, taken in 2018.)