For 12 long years, the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence has remained one of Britain’s most perplexing unsolved mysteries.
During that time, the smiling face of the York University chef has been burned into public consciousness, frozen in time as the woman of 35 who vanished in March 2009.
Hopes of a breakthrough have been raised many times – to date, nine people have been arrested or interviewed under caution, files have been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to several individuals, but no charges brought.
No trace of Claudia.
More than 2,500 statements taken, more than 1,700 vehicles checked, dozens of homes and business premises examined, more than 200 items tested for DNA.
No trace of Claudia.
Peter Lawrence holding up a poster of his daughter outside the Houses of Parliament, London, in 2011
Despite an extensive suspected murder investigation and a cold case review costing a reported £1.5million, no one has been able to explain how Claudia simply vanished or tell her heartbroken family where she is. Could that finally be about to change?
Should yesterday’s developments finally lift the veil on what happened to the woman who apparently left the home, on the outskirts of York, where she lived alone, leaving her bed made, dirty plates in the sink and her slippers lined up in the hall, it would be the moment Claudia’s loved ones have been waiting for all these years.
Only two years ago, on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, her mother Joan, 78, spoke about her continuing hope.
‘As her mum, I feel no cut-off. I can’t believe she is dead,’ she told the Mail. ‘I am never, ever giving up hope. Someone knows the truth.’
Fresh hope will be welcome. But hopes have been raised and dashed many times before, and this time there is a painful twist in the agonising mystery.
Pictured: Claudia's mother Joan Lawrence
Her father Peter, a solicitor, campaigned tirelessly for answers 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.
Peter died in February, aged 74, never knowing what happened to his daughter. So what do we know of what happened to Claudia Lawrence?
Nobody has seen or heard from her since she came home from work on Wednesday March 18, 2009. Close to her family, she’d grown up with her parents and older sister Ali in the pretty North Yorkshire market town of Malton. Her parents were divorced, and she’d spoken to each of them that evening, sounding ‘cheerful and relaxed’.
But she never arrived for her early shift at work the following day. It was Peter who reported her missing on the Friday after one of his daughter’s female friends alerted him when Claudia didn’t turn up to meet her in the pub, as they’d agreed, on Thursday night, and phone calls the next morning went straight to voicemail.
Mr Lawrence’s first action was to go to his daughter’s house with a spare key to check on her. She wasn’t there. He reported his daughter to North Yorkshire Police as a missing person, and the investigation began.
At Claudia’s home there was precious little evidence, no signs of a break-in or disturbance.
Her passport, bank