Page last updated at 00:46 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

The search for missing York chef Claudia Lawrence

By Louise Hosie
BBC News, North Yorkshire

Claudia Lawrence
Claudia Lawrence vanished without any money or her passport

The disappearance of York chef Claudia Lawrence in March 2009 left police mystified and her family and friends shocked and despairing.

How could the popular young woman who appeared to have everything to live for seemingly go missing without a trace?

Miss Lawrence's bank cards and passport remained at her Heworth home and mobile phone messages from the "prolific texter" had come to an abrupt end. It was as though she had vanished into thin air.

In the days that followed the 35-year-old's disappearance a major search operation by North Yorkshire Police was started.

Over the next 12 months several appeals for information were made by police and the York university chef's loved ones, most notably, her father, Peter Lawrence, who would spearhead a relentless campaign to keep his daughter's name in the public eye.

Text message

CCTV footage was released and Miss Lawrence's face would become a ubiquitous image across the country, featuring on posters and beamed out from huge television screens at railway and bus stations.

Search teams raked through properties, rivers in the York area were scoured and detectives travelled to Cyprus - a favourite holiday destination of Miss Lawrence's - in the hope of tracing her, but to no avail.

Miss Lawrence was first reported missing after failing to turn up for her early-morning shift at the University of York's Goodricke College on 19 March, 2009.

Peter Lawrence
Peter Lawrence said his daughter's disappearance was "unbearable"

On the evening of 18 March she had separate telephone conversations with her divorced parents and appeared to be in good spirits.

She then sent a text message to a friend to organise a drink later that week. It was the last contact anyone had with her.

The inquiry into her disappearance was the biggest the North Yorkshire force had conducted since the search for multiple killer Mark Hobson five years ago.

Hundreds of properties were searched as part of the police investigation, with officers from the South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Humberside forces drafted in to help.

The searches included two at Miss Lawrence's local pub, the Nag's Head, just a few doors from her home in Heworth Road.

Secret relationships

The investigation generated more than 1,000 reports and statements, the case featured on the BBC's Crimewatch programme and a £10,000 reward for information was put up.

Meanwhile, police appealed for help in tracing a couple who were seen arguing at the side of a road on Ms Lawrence's route to work and footage was released of two men spotted near her York home in Heworth Road the morning after she was last seen.

Detectives said they believed Miss Lawrence may have come to harm after meeting someone she knew.

The strain is intolerable and the sorrow unbearable
Peter Lawrence

They said Miss Lawrence had kept some relationships secret from her family and friends, and urged men who had had a relationship with her to come forward.

On the six-month anniversary of Miss Lawrence's disappearance, police revealed they had extended their investigation to Cyprus.

Detectives travelled to the Mediterranean island and spoke with several people who knew the chef, but no suspects were identified.

Meanwhile Mr Lawrence continued his own painstaking drive to keep his daughter's name in the public eye.

'Worst nightmare'

"The strain is intolerable and the sorrow unbearable", the solicitor said.

Miss Lawrence's mother, Joan, described what had happened as "every parent's worst nightmare" and her sister spoke of the void created by Miss Lawrence's absence from family occasions, including her nephew's first birthday.

After the latest Crimewatch appeal in February, police said they were following up a "potentially significant lead". This was later discounted.

On the eve of Miss Lawrence's 36th birthday on 26 February 2010, family, friends and police gathered in York for a Claudia Lawrence Awareness Day.

As balloons floated into the North Yorkshire sky, and the candles on Miss Lawrence's birthday cake were blown out, they must have been wondering if they would ever get an answer to the question which has become the slogan of the year-long search for the missing chef: 'Claudia, Where are You?'



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