Police investigating the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence have launched a major search at some gravel pits near York.
Officers have today (Tuesday 24 August) cordoned off a large area around the Sand Hutton gravel pits after receiving a tip-off.
Claudia disappeared in March 2009. Despite two major police investigations, no one knows what happened to the University of York chef. Her body has never been found.
Speaking at a press conference at Sand Hutton, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, head of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team and the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “The searches which have commenced today at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits are in relation to the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence more than 12 years ago.
“I cannot say exactly how long these searches may take, however, it is likely that specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams and forensic experts, will be here for a number of days.
“While I am unable to disclose what has led us to this area, I must stress that the searches are just one of several active lines of enquiry currently being pursued by the Major Investigation Team in our efforts to establish what happened to Claudia and identify any person responsible for causing her harm.
“Claudia’s family have been updated about this development in the case.”
He declined to answer any questions from media at the scene.
Draining the ponds
Dozens of officers were seen scouring the embankments and undergrowth around the gravel pits.
On Facebook, it was said they were draining the ponds.
Jon Rooke posted on the Claxton and Sand Hutton Community Group today: “OK, just had the police to see us. They are searching the area.
“Presumably linked to them draining the ponds this week. They have said it might be two weeks. the road will be shut from the entrance to the science lab, not sure on SH end. All been taped off as we speak.”
Ms Lawrence, who lived by herself in the Heworth area of York, was last seen on March 18 2009 and her disappearance has been the subject of widespread speculation.
North Yorkshire Police has conducted two investigations and questioned nine people in relation to her disappearance and suspected murder but no charges have ever been brought.
Earlier this year, Mr Fox repeated North Yorkshire Police’s belief that several people know, or have suspicions about, what happened to the 35-year-old.
He said some of the information received by the force “appears extremely interesting and sparks a whole new line of investigation”, and he urged anyone providing this information to get back in touch with as much detail as possible.
Ms Lawrence’s father, Peter, died earlier this year without knowing what happened to his daughter.
Mr Lawrence campaigned tirelessly to get answers to the puzzle of her disappearance and spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.
Police closed off a road outside the York Biotech Campus earlier on Tuesday.
Search activity could be seen taking place beyond the cordon around a mile from the main A64 road between York and Malton.
A number of police vans and an incident command unit trailer were parked along the side of the quiet, tree-lined road – and a number of areas of the forest were cordoned off with blue and white police tape.
Police officers, wearing black uniform, could be seen searching the undergrowth along a public bridleway through the forest.
The search area includes two former gravel pits, that are believed to have been used as fishing ponds since 1969.