Claudia Lawrence: Gravel pits near home of woman who went missing in 2009 searched in new police probe

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Claudia Lawrence: Gravel pits near home of woman who went missing in 2009 searched in new police probe
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Police looking for missing university chef Claudia Lawrence - who went missing in 2009 - are searching a flooded quarry near to her home in York.

Ms Lawrence, who was 35 and worked as a chef at the University of York, was reported missing on 20 March 2009 after she didn’t turn up to an early shift the day before. She lived by herself in the Heworth area of York.

Police believe she was murdered, although her body has ever been found.

North Yorkshire Police confirmed on Tuesday an operation has begun to search the gravel pits at Sand Hutton, a popular spot for angling, eight miles to the east of York. The pits have been used for fishing since 1969.

Police also cordoned off a road outside the York Biotech Campus, near to the gravel pits.

The search area also reportedly includes a public bridleway near to forest land.

The force said underwater search teams and forensic officers were planning to be at the pits for several days.

Ms Lawrence, who vanished in 2009 (PA)
Ms Lawrence, who vanished in 2009 (PA)

Ms Lawrence’s family have been told about the search, police said.

Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox who took over as senior investigating officer in the case earlier this year, said: “The searches which have commenced here today at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits are in relation to the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence more than 12 years ago.

“While I cannot say at this stage how long the search may take, I do anticipate that a number of specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams, and forensic experts are likely to be at this location for a number of days.

“Whilst I am unable to disclose what brought us to this location, I would like to stress that the searches that you will see in coming days are just one of several active lines of inquiry which are currently being investigated and pursued by North Yorkshire Police Major Investigation team in our efforts to establish what happened to Claudia and to identify any person responsible for causing her harm.

“I can confirm Claudia’s family are aware this activity is taking place.”

Police search an area eight miles east of York (PA)
Police search an area eight miles east of York (PA)

Ms Lawrence’s 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.

One resident of the area, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “You don’t expect anything like that around here, but I guess you don’t expect it anywhere really.

“A lot of people around here and throughout York have been aware of the story since she disappeared. I imagine people (in the community) will be shocked.

“If they find her, and it brings closure to the family, then it’s got to be a good thing. At least they will know what’s happened to her. It’s just sad all round.”

Ms Lawrence with her father Peter (PA Media)
Ms Lawrence with her father Peter (PA Media)

Earlier this year, Mr Fox repeated North Yorkshire Police’s belief 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.

A number of hoaxes wasted police time during the investigation.

Richard O’Rourke, 48, of Lincoln, was jailed for 18 months for calls he made on the first anniversary of Ms Lawrence’s disappearance. He suggested she was buried in Heslington, a York suburb.

Police on the scene today (PA)
Police on the scene today (PA)

The hoax prompted a pointless four-day search.

A teenager from Oxfordshire was also cautioned after leaving a Facebook message on the social media site pretending to be from the missing woman.

It said: “Hi everyone just let you be aware that I am ok and I am safe and sound. Speak to all soon. Claudia. xxx.”

The investigation was hindered by a lack of CCTV around Ms Lawrence’s home and the fact she did not have a smart phone or a social media presence.

Her phone – a silver Samsung D900 – and a rucksack in which she carried her chef’s whites have never been found.

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