The disappearance of Claudia Lawrence has baffled police and her family since she was last seen in March 2009. As a chef at the University of York in England, Claudia was outgoing, social and popular with no known reason for her to disappear. She was last sighted returning home from her job on the afternoon of 18 March 2009. After having a conversation with her mother via telephone that evening and sending a text message to a friend, she has not been heard from since.
To have a loved one disappear like this with no warning and no explanation is an extremely difficult situation to bear. We all go about our daily business, chatting with friends and family, making arrangements and maintaining our jobs and our homes. The last thing we expect is for someone to go missing overnight, to disappear completely and to spend year after year wondering what has happened to them.
When Claudia Lawrence vanished there were no indications she had left purposefully. Her belongings, personal effects, purse, and passport were all inside her home with only her mobile phone missing. Nothing was different, but Claudia herself was gone. In less than two months the investigation changed from a missing person inquiry to a murder inquiry with North Yorkshire Police suspecting foul play had been involved in her disappearance. Searches of her house and car by police and forensic specialists did not uncover any evidence to provide any clues. During the investigation, a number of claims were made suggesting she had relationships in her life that were private to her and unknown to her family. Her connections to Cyprus were also explored with a team of officers traveling to the island to interview her friends and acquaintances there but no new leads emerged.
In 2013 a new crime unit was established by North Yorkshire Police with the Claudia Lawrence case being on the list for review. New forensic searches with advanced techniques that were not available in 2009 were used to find new fingerprints in her house and car and supported the police theory that Claudia did leave her home on the morning of 19 March to go to work. Furthermore, traces on her mobile phone discovered it was deliberately switched off that evening the day after Claudia was last heard from.
A white van was seen in the area talking to women on the same route Claudia was walking home that afternoon which has been investigated but could not be eliminated from the enquiry. Furthermore, CCTV images of two people in the area of her home acting suspiciously and repeatedly passing the front of her house on the evening of 18 March 2009 have also been captured but despite numerous media appeals these individuals have not come forward or been traced. Appeals on the TV programme Crime Watch generated calls from the public and direct appeals from her father have created leads and information but, to date, no evidence of what happened to Claudia has been found.
In the UK, one person every two minutes goes missing. They disappear out of the lives of their family and friends and the hunt for their whereabouts begins. Not every missing persons case is under suspicious circumstances. Sometimes adults chose to go missing for their own reasons, which they are entitled to do unless they are within the Criminal Justice System or under sections of the Mental Health Act. It is surprising how apparently easy this is to do with all the CCTV monitoring we have in today’s world. There are cameras everywhere; on the streets, on trains, in banks, in shops – most of us are captured hundreds of times a week without even knowing it.
Most people who go missing are found within 72 hours and are safe and well. However, for those who do not return and cannot be found, their families are left always wondering where they are, if they are safe, and what happened to them. For the families of the long term missing the simple practicalities left behind can be difficult to deal with. A missing person is classified somewhere in between being alive and dead and therefore all their affairs go on hold. Families are unable to try and sort such affairs as banks and employers will not discuss any details due to the Data Protection Act. Salaries are halted, insurance policies are suspended and everything goes on indefinite hold.
Claudia Lawrence’s father, Peter Lawrence, has been instrumental in campaigning for a new law to allow the families of those who are missing to manage the finances of the missing person as a guardian. The Guardianship (Missing Persons) bill, also referred to as ‘Claudia’s Law’ after Claudia Lawrence was passed into law though the House of Lords in April 2017, a law that the charity Missing People have estimated with help up to 2,500 families.
In the spring of 2015, six years after Claudia Lawrence disappeared, it looked like there had been a break in the case when four men local to the area were arrested on suspicion of her murder. Evidence files on all four men were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for review, however, it was decided there was not enough evidence against them to press charges and all four were released from custody. After the decision, the North Yorkshire Police said, “The investigation team will continue to thoroughly assess any new leads and information. We remind those who we suspect are withholding key information about Claudia that we will not give up our quest to find the truth,” reported The Yorkshire Post.
It is an investigation that has repeatedly been frustrated by lack of cooperation and a reluctance to talk police have said, feeling very much that people do know more information but are for reasons unknown unwilling to share that information with the police or with Claudia’s family. “I am sure that there are some people who know, or who have very strong suspicions about, what happened to Claudia. For whatever reason, they have either refused to come forward, or have been economic with the truth,” Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn of North Yorkshire Police said in 2016.
In January of this year, police informed the Lawrence family they were scaling back the investigation, moving it into a reactive phase which will focus on any new information with regards to her disappearance. With all current leads exhausted, North Yorkshire Police feel they have no option but to scale down the investigation. Assistant Chief Constable Paul Kennedy said of the review that has been ongoing for the past three years, “Despite their exhaustive efforts, the support of national experts, the application of the very latest forensic techniques to exhibits recovered many years ago, and despite the team tracing and speaking to many people who did not come forward in the first enquiry, we have sadly not been able to find that crucial piece of information.”
The torment of not knowing what has happened to your loved one is a state many families are placed in knowing that somebody out there has the answers yet chooses not to give them. Claudia Lawrence has now been missing for eight years and it can only be hoped that those who know the truth, however painful these details may be for her family, will come forward and answer their questions and finally tell them what happened and why.