Claudia Lawrence: The history of the investigation into her disappearance

The investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence is one of the largest North Yorkshire Police have ever undertaken.

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 6:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 6:08 pm
Claudia Lawrence. (North Yorkshire Police)

The force vowed in March 2016 the case would never be closed until those responsible were brought to justice.

The Malton-born chef, who grew up and worked in York, disappeared in 2009 at the age of 35.

Her father Peter died aged 74 after a short illness on February 11, 2021 without ever knowing what happened to his daughter.

Peter and Claudia Lawrence. (North Yorkshire Police)

The Disappearance

The last sightings of her were on March 18, 2009.

After finishing a morning shift at the University of York at 2.30pm, Claudia walked three miles home, a route she had been taking for a while due to her car being unavailable.

A friend who drove past her on Melrosegate offered her a lift and dropped her at her cottage on Heworth Road at around 2.50pm.

Forensics officers at Claudia's house. (JPI Media)

Another friend said they saw her returning home at 3.05pm and there was a reported sighting of her posting a letter nearby in between those two times.

At 8pm Claudia texted a friend and around half an hour later spoke to her mum on the phone who said she sounded ‘cheerful and relaxed’.

The following day, March 19, 2009, she failed to turn up for her morning shift and did not answer when her manager tried to call her.

Her phone was switched off at 12.08pm that day, which police investigations later showed was done deliberately.

Peter Lawrence outside his daughter's house in York. (JPI Media)

In the evening she didn’t turn up to meet her friend Suzy as planned.

Police investigation

Claudia was officially reported missing on March 20 after Suzy, who became worried after her attempts to contact her friend went unanswered, told Claudia’s father Peter.

Peter then went to his daughter’s house with a spare key to check on her, found she was not in the house, and reported her as missing to the police.

The initial police investigation found the only things missing from Claudia's home were a rucksack, mobile phone and chef’s whites, consistent with her leaving her house in the early hours of March 19 for work.

Those items have never been recovered.

Two potential sightings were reported of a woman and man on the morning of the 19th, in response to a police appeal.

A cyclist on Melrosegate bridge had noticed a couple at 5.35am and a commuter, 30 minutes later, noticed a couple outside the university who looked like they were arguing.

The man was described as skinny, about 5’6 and wearing a dark hoodie.

There was also CCTV footage released of a suspicious-looking man at the back of Claudia’s house on Heworth Place from 5.50am that morning, also in a black hoodie.

At the time Claudia’s parents said her disappearance was ‘completely and utterly out of character’.

Appeals were made to speak to the driver of a Ford Focus, which CCTV showed driving on Heworth Road, with the brake lights switching on outside Claudia’s home.

Just five weeks after she went missing, police classified the case as a suspected murder, though they had no proof Claudia was dead.

Cyprus search

In September of 2009 North Yorkshire Police extended their search to Cyprus with Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway, who was leading the investigation, saying Claudia knew several people who lived there and may have received job offers herself when visiting.

Claudia had been to Cyprus five times prior to her disappearance and the last text she received was from a male friend there.

A team of officers were sent to Cyprus to interview people who had met Claudia there, though Mr Galloway later said those people had been reluctant to speak to police.

Ongoing investigation

Information received by police in March 2010 led them to search Hesslington in York, land near the university and a children’s play area - though these searches lead to nothing of significance being discovered.

North Yorkshire Police’s Major Crime Unit (MCU) was set up in 2013 to look at kidnaps, rapes and stalled cases such as the Claudia Lawrence investigation.

The MCU was able to use advanced techniques which had not previously been available to find additional fingerprints and a man's DNA on a cigarette end in her car.

Work surrounding her Samsung D900 mobile phone showed fthat 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 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, though none were charged.

It was announced today, Tuesday August 24, that underwater search teams and forensic experts are likely to be searching in Sand Hutton Gravel Pits near York for “a number of days”.Claudia’s Law

Ten years after she disappeared, the UK Government introduced the Guardianship (Missing Person’s) Act 2017, informally known as 'Claudia's Law'.

The law, which came into force on July 31 2019, allows for a guardian to be appointed to manage the affairs of a person who has been missing for 90 days or more.

The law was introduced after campaigning by Peter Lawrence with the support of MPs.

How you can help

If you have any information that could assist the investigation, please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 1, and pass details to the Force Control Room, quoting "Claudia Lawrence".

If you would prefer to remain anonymous, please pass information to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111,quoting “Claudia Lawrence, North Yorkshire Police“.

The Claudia Lawrence appeal is also supported by the Missing People charity – www.missingpeople.org.uk