Claudia hunt: Ex-Boyfriend tells of agony

THE last known boyfriend of a missing woman has spoken of his anguish over her disappearance.

University chef Claudia Lawrence, 35, whose family lives in the Malton area, has not been seen for more than a week.

Dan Whitehand, a 34-year-old insurance broker from the North East, said it was out of character.

It was reported by the national press that he was interviewed by police earlier this week and he told officers he had visited Scarborough on business on the day of her disappearance, Wednesday March 18.

Meanwhile, Claudia's father was due to make a dramatic plea for her safe return today, with a live BBC interview.

Mr Whitehand said: "She always told somebody where she was. I hate to think what might have happened. It's staggering that she could just vanish like this.

"Claudia's a lovely girl. She's outgoing, sociable and funny – everyone's best friend."

Yesterday, six civilian search and rescue teams from across the region, including the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue, were drafted in to support the police as efforts continued to find the missing University of York chef.

The search, using specialist search and rescue dogs, was on land near the university.

Miss Lawrence was last seen on Wednesday last week at around 2pm, when she left Goodricke College, and was later spotted on CCTV footage as she walked the three-mile route to her home.

Miss Lawrence spoke to both her parents on the telephone on Wednes-day evening but has not been in contact since then. She did not arrive at work on Thurs-day morning and later failed to keep an arrangement to meet a friend at her local pub, the Nags Head.

Police said she had no money, bank cards or passport with her.

On Thursday her phone was switched off or powered down and has not been located.

As she was walking home she was picked up by a colleague and dropped off at her home in Heworth.

The detective leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway, has said he feared she has "come to harm" because of the length of time she has been missing.

Miss Lawrence's father Peter, 62, a Malton solicitor, travelled to London last night ready for a live studio interview on BBC 1's Missing Live programme at 9.15 this morning.

Accompanying him was his friend of more than 20 years standing, Martin Dales, of Old Malton.

Mr Dales, who has supported his friend since his daughter was first reported missing more than a week ago, said: "Peter asked if I would go with him to London. I didn't want him going on his own because he's obviously in a fragile state, so I readily agreed.

"I think he's showing great courage and fortitude."

The programme does reconstructions of individual cases of missing people alongside live interviews with family and friends to explore the true life drama of missing person investigations. It has been featuring Miss Lawrence's disappearance throughout this week.

Born and bred in Malton, Miss Lawrence moved to York four years ago.

Mr Lawrence has been co-ordinating a leaflet campaign in a desperate bid to find his daughter.

A team of 40 volunteers, including members of Malton and Norton Rotary Club, of which he is a past President, joined people from the Nag's Head pub and neighbours at Heworth Road, York, where she lives, distributed leaflets in the area.

Mr Dales said they were produced by Malton's Fitzwilliam Estate – a client of Mr Lawrence – and Pearsons and Ward solicitors in Malton, where he was a partner. He now has his own practice.

He said: "They put leaflets through every door along the route from where Claudia lives to the college and that was no mean feat because it's nearly all houses.

"Peter is showing great fortitude but it's not knowing what's happened to Claudia that makes it so bad.

"We spend all the time conjecturing and we could write up a ream of paper on what could have happened, but we just don't know."

Meanwhile the police investigation is continuing and anyone with information about Miss Lawrence's disappearance is asked to call 0845 6060 247.

* The Archbishop of York yesterday spoke of his prayers for the safe return of Miss Lawrence.

Dr John Sentamu, who has returned from a four-day retreat, spoke to her father, Peter, who asked that the Archbishop pray for Claudia's safety.

"We will be lighting a candle of hope for Claudia in the chapel at Bishopthorpe where prayers will be said on the hour for Claudia and her family" said Dr Sentamu. "When I asked Peter Lawrence if there was anything I could do for him, his answer was simple: 'Pray'.