12 years ago Uni of York staff member Claudia Lawrence went missing. Here’s what we know
The police have investigated her disappearance twice
Today marks 12 years since Claudia Lawrence, a chef at the University of York, went missing in York in 2009.
A new appeal for information has been made in advance of the 12th anniversary of her disappearance.
Aged just 35 at the time, Claudia’s disappearance still remains a mystery. Although it has been treated as suspected murder and nine people have been questioned, no charges have ever been brought and her fate still remains unclear.
Claudia was a chef at the University of York, and the last sighting of her was when she was walking the roughly two-mile route home from work.
She was reported missing on Friday 20th March 2009 by her father Peter Lawrence, after friends had become concerned that they had not heard from her since Wednesday 18th March.
In light of the recent death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, Claudia Lawrence’s mother Joan Lawrence has reached out to the family of Sarah, offering her help and support. Sarah was originally from York, and Joan told the Yorkshire Post she knows “exactly how they feel.”
As shown by CCTV footage, Claudia left work at Goodricke Dining Hall on Campus West (now a part of James College) at about 2:30pm, and footage then shows her walking her route home past the Biology building. The last sighting of Claudia is later during her walk home, appearing to post an item at a post box on Melrosegate, Layerthorpe at around 3:05pm.
The BBC reports: “Claudia left few digital clues as to her whereabouts. She didn’t use social media, own a computer, or use the internet on her Samsung D900. Unlike smartphones today, hers did not track her location.”
However, on the evening of the 18th March, she replied to her friend’s message at 8:27pm, but then didn’t reply to one she received at 9:12pm. Claudia also spoke to her mother and father, Joan and Peter Lawrence, over the phone that Wednesday evening – they said she was in good spirits.
The police have investigated Claudia’s case twice, “at a cost of at least £1m” according to the BBC. As later revealed in the second investigation, CCTV footage on Heworth Place captures a man walking out of sight around the back of Claudia’s house at 7:15pm that evening, and returning in view a minute later.
The police described his actions as “strange” but the man was never identified.
It is unknown what happened next, but Claudia did not turn up for work the following morning. A series of sightings on 19th March made the case more complex.
At 5:07am on the 19th March 2009, the same CCTV camera on Heworth Place that captured a man near Claudia’s house the previous night, captured another man walking around the back of Claudia’s house and returning into view again a minute later. It is uncertain if the man is the same man who was there the previous night, but North Yorkshire Police claimed he was a key person to trace.
Then at 5:35am, a passer-by witnessed a woman and man speaking on Melrosegate bridge, which would be the time Claudia would usually cross the bridge on her way to work. The man was wearing a dark hoodie with his hood up, and was smoking a cigarette in his left hand – he was dubbed by the police as the “Left-handed smoker”.
At 6:10am, a car was seen parked on University Road outside the University of York, which was around the time Claudia was supposed to start her shift. A couple was seen outside the car arguing, but neither of the couples (including the one on Melrosegate bridge) were traced.
After not turning up to work, Claudia’s manager called her mobile but there was no answer. Then at 12:08pm, her phone was deliberately turned off within an eight-mile radius of York.
That evening, Claudia was meant to be meeting her friend for a drink. After attempting unsuccessfully to text and call her, her friend presumed Claudia had simply fallen asleep and left her phone uncharged. However, when Claudia didn’t answer her calls the following day (20th March), her concerned friend and Claudia’s father Peter visited her house to check on her.
As reported by the BBC: “The pair were nervous as they entered Claudia’s house on 20th March. They feared she had been attacked or fallen down the stairs but the total absence of anything out of the ordinary was even more concerning.
“Her slippers were neatly by the door, dishes stacked in the sink. The jewellery she typically took off for work and left at home was on the chest of drawers.
“In the kitchen, next to the bathroom, her toothbrush had been left on the draining board. Her phone and rucksack containing her chef’s whites were missing. Everything suggested she left for work as planned.”
Claudia’s house was searched but “largely discounted as a crime scene because there were no signs of struggle or foul play.”
In July 2010, the force scaled down the investigation, and the following February saw Crimestoppers withdraw its £10,000 reward for information.
Five years after Claudia disappeared, in 2014 the first arrests were made. Both a 59-year-old-man was held on suspicion of murder, and a 46-year-old man was held on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. However, they were both released later that year without charge.
In 2015, four local men who went to the Nag’s Head pub (where Claudia and her friends used to frequent, just around the corner from Claudia’s house) were arrested on suspicion of murder. However, in 2016 the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the proceedings due to what they saw as a lack of evidence.
In 2016 there was a review of the case and Claudia’s house was forensically re-examined, producing new DNA and fingerprints that are still unidentified. There was also a focus on searching the alley behind Claudia’s home. However, nothing was unearthed.
Compared to detectives’ original theory that something happened to Claudia when she left for work on the 19th March, the 2016 review unearthed new theories such as considering that what happened to Claudia did so on the 18th March, not the following day.
Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn, who ran the review in 2016, told the BBC: “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 economical with the truth.
“I am left with the inescapable conclusion that this case could still be solved if only people were honest with us. The fact that they are not is agonising for Claudia’s family and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Claudia’s father Peter, who sadly passed away last month, had been awarded an OBE and successfully campaigned for Claudia’s Law, which enables families of those who have gone missing to be able to manage the property and financial matters of their missing family member.
Joan, Claudia’s mother, has said: “I will not give up [hope]. One day I will find out what happened to my daughter.”
North Yorkshire Police have said: “North Yorkshire Police’s commitment and determination to solve the case and bring closure for Claudia’s loved-ones, is undiminished by the passage of time.”