Claudia Lawrence detectives 'must have been led to pond by tip-off'

Claudia Lawrence detectives must have been led to fishing pond by tip-off, says family friend as search teams scour spot eight miles from her York home 12 years after she disappeared

  • Police yesterday launched search in gravel pits in York for missing chef Claudia 
  • She failed to arrive for work at the University of York on March 18 back in 2009
  • Her father Peter Lawrence died in February aged 74 after tireless search
  • Current operation is searching gravel pits at Sand Hutton, to the east of York

Detectives searching for missing Claudia Lawrence must have been led to gravel pits eight miles from her York home after a specific tip-off, a family friend said today.

North Yorkshire Police’s sudden interest in the area at Sand Hutton to the east of the city could only have been sparked by new information.

Specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams, and forensic experts are expected to spend days at the site.

It is the latest development in a 22-year-old mystery over what could have happened to Miss Lawrence after she failed to arrive for work at the University of York on March 18, 2009.

Martin Dale, a friend of her late father Peter, told MailOnline: ‘The police did everything they could at the time, searching the river, the waters at the university.

‘You don’t press the button on an operation like this unless there is a good reason for it.

Undated North Yorkshire Police handout of Claudia Lawrence with her late father Peter

North Yorkshire police search team at the search site at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits yesterday

Police officers searching the land at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits near York on Tuesday afternoon

‘There must have been some kind of new information about this area.

‘I can think of a lot of places as far away that have not been searched before.

‘I don’t know where the decision to search here has come from – nobody knew anything about it.’ 

In the twelve years since her disappearance, nine people have been questioned, but no charges have ever been brought. The case – which is being treated as a suspected murder – has never been closed by North Yorkshire Police. 

Her father Mr Lawrence – who campaigned tirelessly for Claudia’s Law, which allows relatives to control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters – died in February aged 74, without finding out what happened to her. 

Speaking at the new site yesterday, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, senior investigating officer in the case, said: ‘The searches which have commenced here today at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits are in relation to the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence more than 12 years ago.

‘While I cannot say at this stage how long the search may take, I do anticipate that a number of specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams, and forensic experts are likely to be at this location for a number of days.

‘Whilst I am unable to disclose what brought us to this location, I would like to stress that the searches that you will see in coming days are just one of several active lines of inquiry which are currently being investigated and pursued by North Yorkshire Police Major Investigation team in our efforts to establish what happened to Claudia and to identify any person responsible for causing her harm.

Claudia Lawrence, 35, failed to arrive for work at the University of York on March 18, 2009 and was reported missing by her father two days later

Police officers searching the land at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits near York in connection with the disappearance of missing Claudia Lawrence

In the twelve years since her disappearance, nine people have been questioned, but no charges have ever been brought. The case – which is being treated as a suspected murder – has never been closed by North Yorkshire Police. Pictured: Police launching a new search on land at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits

Miss Lawrence, who lived by herself in the Heworth area of York, failed to arrive for work at the University of York on March 18, 2009 and was reported missing by her father Peter Lawrence two days later, after her friends said they had not heard from her

Police have confirmed that an operation has begun to search gravel pits at Sand Hutton, to the east of York

The investigation is one of the largest North Yorkshire Police has ever undertaken, with thousands of interviews, statements and searches, and received extensive media attention

Claudia Lawrence’s route home from work and matched by her now missing mobile phone

A CCTV image shows a man walking near the house of murdered chef Claudia Lawrence

This person has never been identified and is still being hunted by investigating officers

The disappearance of Claudia Lawrence

2009

March 18 – Miss Lawrence speaks with her parents over the phone and, at 8.23pm, sends her friend a text. She has not been seen or heard from since.

March 20 – Miss Lawrence’s father, Peter, contacts North Yorkshire Police after his daughter fails to keep an arrangement to meet a friend at the Nags Head pub. She also fails to attend work.

March 23 – Mr Lawrence describes his daughter’s disappearance as a ‘living nightmare’ during a news conference in York.

April 24 – Detectives say that Miss Lawrence’s disappearance is being treated as a suspected murder investigation. A £10,000 reward is offered for information that could lead to the conviction of those responsible.

2010

May 6 – Mr Lawrence calls for an urgent independent inquiry into the police investigation of his daughter’s disappearance and suspected murder.

July 29 – Police confirm they are reducing the number of officers dedicated to the inquiry into Miss Lawrence’s disappearance.

2013

October 29 – A new forensic search of Miss Lawrence’s home is announced as police launch a fresh review of the case.

2014

March 19 – Five years on from Miss Lawrence’s disappearance, officers discover at her home the fingerprints of people who have still not come forward to the investigation.

May 13 – A 59-year-old man is arrested on suspicion of murder. He is released on police bail and eventually released without charge on November 17, 2014.

2015

March 23 – A man in his 50s is arrested on suspicion of murdering Miss Lawrence and is released on police bail the following day.

April 22 – Three more men, all in their 50s and from the York area, are arrested on suspicion of murder and are released on bail.

September 17 – A file of evidence on four men arrested on suspicion of murder is sent by North Yorkshire Police to the Crown Prosecution service (CPS) so it can consider whether to bring charges.

2016

March 8 – Police say the CPS has decided the four men will not face charges.

2017

January 17 – Mr Lawrence says he is ‘hugely depressed and disappointed’ as the investigation into his daughter’s disappearance is scaled down.

2019

March – Nearly a decade on from her disappearance, Miss Lawrence has still not been found. Her father says in an interview that ‘it’s very difficult’ to conceive of her still being alive.

July – The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill, also known as Claudia’s Law, came into force. This followed years of campaigning by Mr Lawrence and allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.

2021

February 15 – The death of Peter Lawrence in announced.

March 18 – Speaking after taking over the police investigation, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox said it is not too late for people to come forward and stop the ‘unrelenting anguish’ caused to the chef’s loved ones.

August 24 – A new search operation is announced at the gravel pits at Sand Hutton, about eight miles from York.

‘I can confirm Claudia’s family are aware this activity is taking place.’  

The investigation is one of the largest North Yorkshire Police has ever undertaken, with thousands of interviews, statements and searches, and received extensive media attention. 

North Yorkshire Police announced new leads had led to the search at Sand Hutton gravel pits involving teams on land and divers.

A team of police officers could be seen working in a line, methodically searching the undergrowth at Sand Hutton gravel pits.

The beauty spot, popular with anglers, is around a mile off the A64 arterial road which leads out of York towards the town of Malton.

The large York Biotech plant, a centre for agricultural and food technology, is nearby having been established 20 years ago.

The spot where the police search is underway is 5.6 miles away from where Claudia was last seen on Wednesday March 18th 2009 near her home in Heworth, York.

Locals described the area as “a fishing pond” where anglers come all year round.

Earlier this year, Mr Fox repeated North Yorkshire Police’s believe that several people know, or have suspicions about, what happened to Miss Lawrence. 

He said some of the information received by the force ‘appears extremely interesting and sparks a whole new line of investigation’, and he urged anyone providing this information to get back in touch with as much detail as possible. 

Miss Lawrence’s silver Samsung D900 phone and blue and grey Karrimor rucksack have never been found.  

Detectives have previously said that they ‘strongly suspect key and vital information’ which would offer a breakthrough was being ‘withheld’ and that the answer to her disappearance lies ‘locally’.  

They have vowed not to quit, saying: ‘North Yorkshire Police will never give up on Claudia until it is known who is responsible for her disappearance and suspected murder.’ 

Miss Lawrence never turned up to her 6am shift at the university’s Goodricke College on March 19. The day before, she left work at 2.30pm and started walking the three-mile trek home, which she had been doing for weeks while her car was unavailable.

A friend driving past spotted her on Melrosegate and offered her a lift, which she accepted, and she was then dropped off at her cottage on Heworth Road at around 2.50pm. 

A friend later saw Miss Lawrence returning home at 3.05pm and there was a reported sighting in between of her posting a letter nearby.

At around 8pm she texted a friend and then half an hour later she received a call from her mother, who described her as sounding ‘cheerful and relaxed’.

The last text Miss Lawrence received was from a male friend in Cyprus who worked in a bar.

After failing to turn up for her morning shift on the 19th, her manager attempted to call her mobile but did not receive an answer. At 12.08pm Miss Lawrence’s phone switched off, with later investigations showing that this was done deliberately.

In the evening she was scheduled to meet her friend Suzy Cooper but didn’t turn up. Ms Cooper then contacted Mr Lawrence, who went round to the house with a spare key to check on his daughter. 

He then reported his daughter to North Yorkshire Police as a missing person.

A man seen standing outside Miss Lawrence’s house between 6.45am and 6.55am that day has never been identified by police. 

Another male filmed by a CCTV camera in Lime Court, Heworth Road very close to her house has also never been traced.  

On June 2, 2009, the case was covered on an episode of BBC’s Crimewatch in which Detective Sergeant Ray Galloway, then leading the search, said they were without any strong leads.

After presenter Kirsty Young pushed him to talk about the ‘areas of Claudia’s life that are delicate to say the least and definitely complex’ which had not yet been touched on, Mr Galloway said: ‘It’s become apparent that some of Claudia’s relationships had an element of complexity and mystery to them’.  

Peter Lawrence at York Police Station for a press conference in April 2009 alongside Superintendent Ray Galloway

Peter Lawrence holding up poster of his daughter outside the Houses of Parliament in 2011

Claudia’s Law 

Peter Lawrence received an OBE for helping to shape the 2017 Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act, known informally as Claudia’s Law.

The law, known informally as Claudia’s Law, created a new legal status of guardian of the affairs of a missing person, allowing someone to act in their best interests after they have been gone for 90 days or more.

The new legislation means families can oversee the financial and property affairs of their missing loved one, if the person has been missing for 90 days – lessening what can be a huge burden at a traumatic time.    

Amid suspicions that Miss Lawrence had suspicious relationships unknown to her friends or family, her father refuted the claims on the Today Programme. 

Mr Lawrence said: ‘We really wonder whether, certainly recently, she had time to form any relationships other than those about which we know. She saw her best friend, Suzy, and myself very regularly and she worked in quite a strenuous job. We wonder about it.’ 

In September 2009, detectives said the search had been extended to Cyprus, with Mr Galloway stating Miss Lawrence ‘knew several people who live on the island’ and that she may have ‘received job offers’ while there.

Mr Galloway later stated that interviewees had been ‘reluctant and less than candid’ when spoken to, and that officers had been sent to Cyprus to interview people whom she had met there.

In March 2010, police began searching various areas of York including Heslington and land near the university, including a children’s play area, upon receiving new information.

However, officers did not find any new leads from these searches.  

In 2013, North Yorkshire Police set up a new Major Crime Unit, which was established specifically to look into kidnaps, rapes and ‘stalled’ cases. 

Using advanced techniques not previously available, the MCU found additional fingerprints and a man’s DNA on a cigarette end in her car. Work surrounding her Samsung D900 mobile phone showed from cell site activity that she was in the Acomb area of York in the weeks leading up to her disappearance and that the phone was deliberately turned off by someone at about 12:10pm on Thursday, March 19, 2009.

A number of arrests were then carried out in relation to the investigation, including six men on suspicion of murder. However, none were charged.

In June 2019, the Government introduced the Guardianship (Missing Person’s) Act 2017, informally known as Claudia’s Law. 

A fresh appeal for answers about Miss Lawrence’s case was made in March this year, on the eve of the 12th anniversary of her disappearance. 

Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, Head of the North Yorkshire Major Investigation Team, said: ‘In October last year, following the retirement of Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn, I was appointed as the new Senior Investigating Officer in charge of the Claudia Lawrence case. 

‘I share his determination and sincerely hope that one day we will find Claudia and bring to justice those responsible for her suspected murder. 

‘In my view, there are likely to be several people out there who either know or have strong suspicions as to what happened to Claudia.

‘For whatever reason, they have maintained a silence for 12 years. 

‘That is an awfully long time to carry such a burden of guilt. The longer you carry it, the greater the anguish you are causing to Claudia’s family and friends. 

‘Please do the right thing, come forward and speak to me.’ 

Miss Lawrence’s mother Joan Lawrence earlier this year said she cried when she heard about the disappearance of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped and murdered by a Metropolitan Police officer in London. 

She told the Mirror: ‘It brought back all the memories of the weekend when Claudia went missing. I know exactly how her parents are feeling… It’s the worst possible pain’.  

Mr Dales added: ‘I think these things, the strain of it is palpable. In this case, obviously trying to help people with the legislation side of things, it’s not straightforward. 

‘Most missing people cases are solved, most people come back quite quickly, but you do have people for which that’s longer. 

‘He (Peter Lawrence) was a man of faith, he did practise that and he always said that helped him hugely, as it would be helpful for everybody. The key thing is that this needs closure, for his sister, his mother, his friends, everybody.

‘The police can only act on information that is passed to them. We all feel that there is someone withholding information in all of this.’ 

Mr Lawrence received an OBE for helping to shape the 2017 Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act, known informally as Claudia’s Law.

The law, known informally as Claudia’s Law, created a new legal status of guardian of the affairs of a missing person, allowing someone to act in their best interests after they have been gone for 90 days or more.

The new legislation means families can oversee the financial and property affairs of their missing loved one, if the person has been missing for 90 days – lessening what can be a huge burden at a traumatic time.    

Nine suspects quizzed. A £1.5m cold case probe. Now, hope of an answer at last

By Beth Hale

For 12 long years, the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence has remained one of Britain’s most perplexing unsolved mysteries.

During that time, the smiling face of the York University chef has been burned into public consciousness, frozen in time as the woman of 35 who vanished in March 2009.

Hopes of a breakthrough have been raised many times – to date, nine people have been arrested or interviewed under caution, files have been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to several individuals, but no charges brought. No trace of Claudia.

More than 2,500 statements taken, more than 1,700 vehicles checked, dozens of homes and business premises examined, more than 200 items tested for DNA. No trace of Claudia.

Despite an extensive suspected murder investigation and a cold case review costing a reported £1.5million, no one has been able to explain how Claudia simply vanished or tell her heartbroken family where she is. Could that finally be about to change?

For 12 long years, the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence has remained one of Britain’s most perplexing unsolved mysteries. Pictured: Joan Lawrence, Claudia’s mother

Should yesterday’s developments finally lift the veil on what happened to the woman who apparently left the home, on the outskirts of York, where she lived alone, leaving her bed made, dirty plates in the sink and her slippers lined up in the hall, it would be the moment Claudia’s loved ones have been waiting for all these years.

Only two years ago, on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, her mother Joan, 78, spoke about her continuing hope.

‘As her mum, I feel no cut-off. I can’t believe she is dead,’ she told the Mail. ‘I am never, ever giving up hope. Someone knows the truth.’

Fresh hope will be welcome. But hopes have been raised and dashed many times before, and this time there is a painful twist in the agonising mystery.

Her father Peter, a solicitor, campaigned tirelessly for answers and spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.

Peter died in February, aged 74, never knowing what happened to his daughter. So what do we know of what happened to Claudia Lawrence?

Nobody has seen or heard from her since she came home from work on Wednesday March 18, 2009. Close to her family, she’d grown up with her parents and older sister Ali in the pretty North Yorkshire market town of Malton. Her parents were divorced, and she’d spoken to each of them that evening, sounding ‘cheerful and relaxed’.

But she never arrived for her early shift at work the following day. It was Peter who reported her missing on the Friday after one of his daughter’s female friends alerted him when Claudia didn’t turn up to meet her in the pub, as they’d agreed, on Thursday night, and phone calls the next morning went straight to voicemail.

Mr Lawrence’s first action was to go to his daughter’s house with a spare key to check on her. She wasn’t there. He reported his daughter to North Yorkshire Police as a missing person, and the investigation began.

At Claudia’s home there was precious little evidence, no signs of a break-in or disturbance.

Her passport, bank cards and jewellery were still there – but her mobile phone, chef’s whites and a small Karrimor rucksack were all gone.

Her father Peter, a solicitor, campaigned tirelessly for answers and spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters

Following a TV appeal, one witness came forward to say they had seen a woman matching Claudia’s description talking to a left-handed smoker in the street. Another told police they had seen a couple arguing near the campus.

Then, a reconstruction of Miss Lawrence’s last known movements and possible witness sightings was screened on the BBC Crimewatch programme. To the distress of the Lawrence family, the course of the investigation suddenly altered.

Under questioning by Kirsty Young, Detective Supterindent Ray Galloway, since retired, who was leading the inquiry described Claudia’s love life as ‘complex and mysterious’ .

Early police inquiries revealed that Claudia, like many attractive single women, had dated a number of men: around 12 over a five-year period. At least one of them was married.

Suddenly Claudia’s busy social life, which centred largely on the Nag’s Head pub, her local, just a few doors down from her house, was in the spotlight – a source of pain and frustration for her family, who were grieved by the false impression of Claudia.

As Joan put it in a 2019 interview: ‘Why is it always the woman who is judged? Everyone who knew Claudia – all her real friends in Malton – didn’t recognise her from how she’d been portrayed.’

Detectives have previously said they ‘strongly suspect key and vital information’ which would offer a breakthrough was being ‘withheld’ and that the answer to her disappearance lies ‘locally’.

Claudia’s mobile phone never left the local area and was deliberately switched off some hours after she failed to turn up for work. There have been various theories, various dead ends.

In a Channel 5 documentary called Missing or Murdered, one of Claudia’s work colleagues – speaking for the first time – suggested that shortly before her disappearance she had hinted at a new lover whom no one yet knew about.

Then there is the name Christopher Halliwell: he is the taxi driver who is serving a full life sentence for the sexually motivated murders of Becky Godden and Sian O’Callagan in Wiltshire.Could he be responsible?

North Yorkshire Police have investigated the link with Halliwell, who had family connections in Yorkshire, but have not found any evidence to support the theory.

There was speculation she could have been sex trafficked, more speculation about a moonlight flit to Cyprus, despite leaving her passport at home.

But her father Peter Lawrence gave this short shrift. ‘She was not a mastermind or a master criminal who would have been able to devise a way of going abroad not using a passport or bank account,’ he said.

The police investigation was dramatically scaled back in July 2010, then in 2013, North Yorkshire Police set up a new Major Crime Unit, specifically to look into ‘stalled’ cases such as Claudia’s.

A fresh forensic search of her home was launched, and in early 2014, fingerprints were found of people who have still not come forward.

A series of arrests followed in 2014 and 2015, but all were released without charge.

By 2017, police had announced the investigation, which by this time had cost £1million, was being scaled down. And yet, the hope has steadfastly remained.

Earlier this year, Joan said: ‘I have a gut feeling this year will bring something that could lead us to discover what has happened to Claudia. I pray for that each day.’

Whatever this latest police investigation reveals, it may not salve the anguish, but perhaps answers to this heartbreaking mystery may finally be near.

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