After £1 million, 2,500 statements, and nine arrests, the re-investigation of the murder of Claudia Lawrence is to end.
North Yorkshire Police announced today (Tuesday) that the three-year review into her disappearance in March 2009 was almost over.
There is one final line of enquiry – relating to DNA profiling. Unless that provides a breakthrough the review will start to scale down next month.
The case itself will remain open – but only to respond to compelling new leads.
Claudia’s parents Peter and Joan attended a meeting with detectives on January 10 at North Yorkshire Police’s Northallerton HQ, where they were given a detailed presentation on the decision.
Claudia’s sister, Ali, was briefed separately the day before.
‘No crucial info found’
Claudia went missing from her home on Heworth Road in March 2009. When no trace of the chef at University of York’s Goodricke College was found, police upgraded the case into a murder inquiry.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Kennedy, who attended the family meeting, said:
The team has reviewed the entirety of the initial investigation into Claudia’s disappearance in 2009, and as a result, has identified many new lines of enquiry which have been pursued with vigour and determination.
Despite their exhaustive efforts, the support of national experts, the application of the very latest forensic techniques to exhibits recovered many years ago, and despite the team tracing and speaking to many people who did not come forward in the first enquiry, we have sadly not been able to find that crucial piece of information.
‘Nobody seems to be getting anywhere’
Martin Dales, a friend of the Lawrence family, told David Dunning of Minster FM that her father Peter was disappointed and depressed by the news.
He said the police had put in a lot of work into a “very thorough investigation”.
“But we still don’t have the answer,” he said. “Where is the answer? It’s out there somewhere.
“There’s this huge frustration that nobody seems to be getting anywhere at all, despite all these years of activity and investigation.”
Nine people were arrested during the review, led by Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn.
In the summer of 2014, in early 2015 and in December 2015, the police submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service “in relation to a number of individuals”.
The CPS concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges against those people.
“It is not for the want of trying that a breakthrough has not yet come, but rather the result of the continuing refusal of those who know what happened to Claudia to come forward and tell us the truth,” Mr Kennedy said.
He praised Det Supt Malyn and his team for their professionalism and determination in trying to make that breakthrough.
Case not closed
Although the proactive Claudia Lawrence investigation will end, any new evidence that comes to light will be reviewed, say police.
Mr Kennedy made this pledge:
Whilst the current review team will and has been scaled down, the new Cleveland and North Yorkshire cold case dedicated team will still have responsibility to review any information that is considered relevant.
Disappointing news though this is for Claudia’s family, we have not given up hope, and I do believe that one day we will be able to tell them what happened to Claudia.
Claudia’s last movements
The last confirmed contact anyone had with the 35-year-old University of York chef was when she spoke to her mother Joan on the phone just after 8pm on Wednesday, 18th March 2009. Claudia failed to attend work the following day, and was reported missing on the Friday.
There is nothing in the manner of her text messages or from her phone billing that indicated she was going to do anything other than attend work the following morning.
The review of the original investigation began in the autumn of 2013.
Led by Det Supt Malyn, the team was made up of experienced staff and senior detectives from North Yorkshire Police, with other regional forces and national agencies providing peer support when required.
‘We share frustration’
Det Supt Malyn said there is “one outstanding piece of work relating to DNA profiling” before the team completes all the work it set out to do.
“I acknowledge how sad Claudia’s parents and sister feel that we have been unable to give them the answers they want, and everyone in the team shares their frustration,” he said.
“We have worked tirelessly for three years and we are sorry that we have not been able to prove what happened to Claudia, or to find her.
“It remains the case that people close to Claudia have not always been entirely truthful with us and have withheld information. And this has made our task extremely difficult.”
Leads that went nowhere
No crime scene has ever been identified. Based upon forensic analysis, police do not believe Claudia was subjected to a violent attack in her home.
Claudia did not have a computer, did not access the internet via her phone and did not have a social media presence – all are useful to help trace missing people.
During the review the team investigated 159 people who came to their attention, to discover their movements at the time of Claudia’s disappearance.
This work involved interviews, house searches, review of telephone activity, and speaking with other witnesses to clarify their movements and other work.
Eye-witness sightings of an unknown man and woman seen arguing near Claudia’s house remain inconclusive, but an unknown man seen on CCTV footage near Claudia’s home around the time she disappeared “remains of very significant interest”.
Despite extensive enquiries and media appeals, it has not been possible to identify this individual.
Lines of enquiry
During the three-year investigation, the team:
Reviewed a large amount of CCTV from local council systems, private premises and buses that was seized by the original team. This, for instance, led to the image of the man in Limes Court being found that Det Supt Malyn and his team consider very relevant
Assessed and analysed other “passive” data, including mobile phone records
Conducted extensive checks on Claudia’s finances
Undertook comprehensive forensic investigations in Claudia’s house and other buildings, on open land, on DNA samples, in cars, garages, and notably on many fingerprint marks. This work included the use of sniffer dogs, ground penetrating radar, the analysis of aerial photography, and the use of geologists and archaeologists
A review of exhibits seized and fingerprints lifted throughout the investigation was a key piece of work, and more than 4,100 exhibits and over 400 fingerprints have been reviewed
Produced the North Yorkshire Police microsite dedicated to appeal points and information about the Claudia Lawrence investigation and the use of electronic appeal boards
Dealt with 7,183 individuals who have come into the enquiry
Seized 4,114 exhibits
Raised 8,077 actions
Taken 2,517 statements with a further 3,815 officers’ reports
Received 457 messages and recorded another 678 emails
In total, 627 police officers and staff have played some role or other during the investigation
Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, supported the decision to review the case.
She said the force should learn from the Claudia Lawrence investigation and “bring that knowledge to bear on future cases”.
The commissioner added:
First and foremost though, my thoughts are with the Lawrence family at this very difficult time. I know North Yorkshire Police continue to offer their support and their services should they be needed.