The disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence remains unsolved, despite two and a half years of painstaking work by a team of detectives, police staff and national experts who have reviewed the original investigation.
Nearly seven years on since the 35-year-old University of York chef went missing, the lack of data, CCTV and other evidence from the time have frustrated the efforts of review team.
In the view of the experienced detective who led the review, the investigation has ultimately been compromised by the reluctance of some, and refusal of others, to co-operate with police enquiries.
Det Supt Dai Malyn’s comments come after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not bring charges against four men who were arrested last year as a result of the review’s work on suspicion of Claudia’s murder.
Claudia’s disappearance – at some point overnight between 18 and 19 March 2009 – sparked a major enquiry by North Yorkshire Police. Det Supt Malyn, the head of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Crime Unit, began a review of that original investigation in the autumn of 2013.
Having thoroughly examined the case, he said he was now sure that there are a number of people who know what happened to Claudia but who have refused, for whatever reason, to come forward.
And he believes a man pictured by a CCTV camera walking near to Claudia’s house at the time of her disappearance “remains the most important person to trace”.
Det Supt Malyn said:
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.
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.
A man was filmed by a CCTV camera in Lime Court, Heworth Road, very close to Claudia’s house, on the morning after she vanished. Our review managed to unearth additional CCTV footage from that same camera shot the previous evening which appears to show the same man in the same place.
We had this footage examined by a number of experts in the UK and abroad, but it is only as good as the camera and it cannot be enhanced using current techniques. Despite exhaustive efforts, we have not been able to identify the man.
The lack of extended CCTV footage from that CCTV camera on the days and weeks either side of Claudia’s disappearance, has been one of our biggest frustrations and is typical of the type of challenge that faces a cold case review team. We have reviewed material seized by the original team and, wherever possible, looked to see if additional material could be secured.
We don’t know if that man was in the area as a matter of daily routine, or whether his appearance is of critical significance. I believe he must be local to the area, and despite extensive appeals, he hasn’t come forward. I can only speculate why he hasn’t done so, and whether someone is protecting him.
Up to 20 detectives and police staff have worked full-time on the review, with the support of many others brought in at specific moments during the last two and a half years, at a cost of nearly £800,000.
There are more than 6,500 names on the Holmes database which shows the sheer scale of the original investigation and review.
Added to this there are 2,326 Criminal Justice Act (CJA) statements made by 1,215 people, including those made by police officers and police staff during the original enquiry.
Also, 3,488 Officers’ Reports that had been logged and 1,771 vehicles also recorded.
The review team has also:
- Conducted 25 video recorded witness interviews
- Conducted 48 video recorded interviews under caution
- Conducted search warrants at seven business premises and 31 private dwellings (this includes multiple searches of individual premises)
- Reviewed more than 500 permissive searches around Claudia’s home and route to work – mainly gardens but some premises
- Forensically examined 64 scenes (39 from original investigation and 25 during the review)
Examined 337 items for fingerprint evidence (217 from original investigation and 120 during the review)
- Obtained 273 fingerprints (135 from original investigation and 138 during the review)
- Examined 210 items for DNA evidence
- Completed 95% of 7,514 actions that have been raised during the review (the remaining 5% have been risk-assessed and deemed low-priority)
Numerous national experts have helped to support the review, including:
- National Interview Advisor
- National Family Liaison Lead
- Behavioural Intelligence Analyst
- Forensic Psychologist
- Forensic Podiatrist (interpreting the way people walk from CCTV footage)
- National search advisor
- Forensic ecologist for potential scene excavation, including use of ground penetrating radar
- Digital forensics and data recovery consultant
- Specialist communications data advisor (interpreting telecoms data)
- Consultant engineer and expert witness specialising in radio navigation and communications systems (examination of sat-navs)
- Regional Imagery Unit and specialist companies regarding enhancement of CCTV footage
- Regional forensic resources
- Specialist police marine, air support and dog units for searching and obtaining imagery
As a result of the review, a 59-year-old local man was arrested on 13 May 2014 on suspicion of Claudia’s murder. He was later released from bail.
On 23 July 2014, a 46-year-old local man was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. He was released without charge following advice from the CPS.
On the sixth anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, detectives released the previously unseen CCTV footage of the man acting suspiciously in Lime Court. It was recorded at around 7.15pm on 18 March 2009, about an hour before Claudia spoke to her mum and dad on the phone.
Shortly after releasing this footage, and as a direct result of a robust review of the information captured by the original investigation team, four local men were arrested (on 23 March and on 22 April 2015) on suspicion of murder. They were all released from bail on 17 September 2015 to allow the necessary time for the CPS to assess a file of evidence presented by the team and to consider whether to bring charges.
Today (Tuesday 8 March 2016) North Yorkshire Police confirmed the CPS decision that the four men will not be charged with any offences.
Det Supt Malyn said:
For legal reasons I am limited about what I can say, but I respect the decision made by the Crown Prosecution Service.
We have made several arrests in this enquiry and, as a result, we have had positive reactions from the public and very useful information.
We do not arrest people without weighing up the proportionality and justification for the arrest. To eliminate people from an enquiry, we sometimes have to search for evidence that either supports their alibis or not. Seven years on this is more difficult to do just relying on memory, therefore if it is justified, proportionate and necessary, we will arrest or apply for search warrants.
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.
As we move towards the seventh anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, we hope the public will continue to help us and provide that vital information the family and we need to find out what happened to Claudia.
We can’t rule out that a complete stranger to Claudia was involved and managed to avoid CCTV cameras, being disturbed by witnesses and is unknown to the investigation team, her friends and family. Until then, we will continue to investigate the information that regularly comes into the team and look at all possibilities.
However, I still strongly favour the theory that the person – or persons – responsible for Claudia’s disappearance was someone – or several people – who were close to her. It was either very well-planned or there was a huge element of luck to have got away with it, so far at least. In my view they have probably been helped by the fact that those closely associated with Claudia have withheld key information.
The team has worked tirelessly to get a breakthrough in this case and I thank every one of them for this. I’m hopeful one day we will get that bit of luck or that a courageous person will step forward to give us that break.
I know Claudia’s family have appreciated our extensive efforts during the review and active investigation over the past two-and-a-half years. I also know what a fraught and painful process this has been for them as they continue their desperate search for answers about Claudia’s disappearance.
I have personally told them that North Yorkshire Police will never give up on Claudia. The case will remain open until the day Claudia has been found and those responsible for her suspected murder are brought to justice.
Det Supt Malyn also thanked the media for their support and responsible reporting in relation to the four men arrested on suspicion of murder last year. He has repeatedly requested that the men are not named for legal reasons and these requests have been honoured.
North Yorkshire Police asks that this responsible reporting continues, and those who have been subject to the investigation are treated fairly and that their right to privacy is respected.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Kennedy, who has overseen the review of the investigation, said:
Over the past two-and-a-half years I have seen first-hand the sheer tenacity and professionalism of Det Supt Malyn and the Major Crime Unit to advance the Claudia Lawrence investigation.
I am hugely grateful to the senior investigating officer and his team for their tenacity and sheer hard work to search for the truth. I also thank the group of national experts who have provided such valuable support and guidance to the investigation.
This investigation will never be closed before we find the truth. If new information comes to light about Claudia Lawrence or anyone involved in her disappearance and suspected murder, North Yorkshire Police will act immediately.
Anyone with information that could assist the investigation should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 1, and pass details to the Force Control Room. Please quote “Claudia Lawrence” when passing on details.
Alternatively, if you have any information about the Claudia Lawrence case, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or through their Anonymous Online Form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will not go to court.
For further information on the Claudia Lawrence investigation and the updated appeal points, please go to the dedicated microsite on the North Yorkshire Police website www.northyorkshire.police.uk/claudialawrence
Peter Lawrence, Claudia’s dad, also has a dedicated website www.findclaudia.co.uk