Claudia Lawrence murder: No decision on charge five months on

Claudia Lawrence, who went missing in March 2009.

Claudia Lawrence, who went missing in March 2009.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to charge four men with murder over the disappearance of York chef Claudia Lawrence more than five months after detectives announced they were to pass over a file of evidence about the case.

North Yorkshire Police revealed on September 17 last year that it was to send the dossier about the four people suspected of killing Miss Lawrence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and would ask it to consider bringing charges.

Martin Dales and friends distribute posters and cards for missing Claudia Lawrence in Whitby w093416a

Martin Dales and friends distribute posters and cards for missing Claudia Lawrence in Whitby w093416a

Some five months later, nearly seven years after her disappearance was first reported, no decision has yet been made on the case. The CPS said it received the file in December and was “carefully considering all the evidence”.

The four men, aged in their 50s and from the York area, were arrested in March and April last year before later being released on bail as part of a review of the original investigation into Miss Lawrence’s disappearance on March 18, 2009.

Today would be Miss Lawrence’s 42nd birthday, and to mark the anniversary the missing chef’s father Peter Lawrence will visit the Houses of Parliament this week to lobby the Government over new guardianship laws.

The Government launched a consultation in 2014 on proposals allowing estates of people missing for longer than three months to be managed so direct debits can be cancelled and debts paid off.

It has been another hard and particularly frustrating year with the police carrying on their investigations but not apparently getting much further.

Peter Lawrence

The consultation concluded in March 2015, at which point the Ministry of Justice said it “strongly supports the creation of the new legal role”, but since then the process of changing the law has not started.

On Tuesday, Mr Lawrence will speak to the media about his seven years without his daughter and his campaign to improve the rights of all those whose loved ones have gone missing.

He said: “It has been another hard and particularly frustrating year with the police carrying on their investigations but not apparently getting much further. I continue to find life without her around very difficult as we were so close. I miss her very much.”

Mr Lawrence said the Presumption of Death Act was passed during the last Parliament but that a change in law on guardianship would help 2,500 families who have a missing person.

He said: “Too many relatives are finding themselves having to deal with the emotional fact of someone missing along with all the financial pressures that go with someone missing.

”It is unfinished business in Parliament as the Government held a consultation which closed just before the General Election and was never picked up again in the new Parliament. It has cross-party support and should take up very little parliamentary time considering how useful it will be for thousands of people.”

A CPS spokeswoman said: “A file of evidence was presented to us in December 2015 by North Yorkshire Police, in relation to four men from the York area, who were arrested in March and April 2015 on suspicion of the murder of Claudia Lawrence, who went missing in March 2009.

“We are carefully considering all the evidence to assess whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction in this case.”

A total of six people have been arrested since North Yorkshire Police launched a review of its original Claudia Lawrence investigation in 2013.

Following their arrests, officers carried out a number of searches, including a detailed re-examination of Miss Lawrence’s home in the Heworth area of York, and a fingertip search of an alleyway that leads to the rear of the house.

Miss Lawrence, a chef at York University, was 35 when she went missing on her way to a 6am shift at work in 2009.

North Yorkshire Police said in September that it would take “some time” for the file of evidence to be prepared and for prosecutors to consider the evidence against the four suspects.

Speaking at the time, Detective Superintendant Dai Malyn, head of the force’s Major Crime Unit, urged the public not to identify the men.

He said: “This is to ensure the investigation and legal process are not compromised or potentially damaged in any way.

“This includes naming or publishing images of the men, their home addresses, places of work, their vehicles and properties on traditional media platforms or social networking sites.

“Your co-operation and support is greatly appreciated by the investigation team.”

Police believe Miss Lawrence was murdered but no body has even been found despite exhaustive searches in the local area.

North Yorkshire Police reviewed her case in 2013 following the formation of a new major crime unit, and since then officers have carried out a number of high-profile searches as part of what is now Operation Essence.

In May it was revealed that the force’s new investigation into the case had cost around £400,000 up until the end of January 2015 and, at times, had 20 dedicated police staff and officers working on it.

In contrast, no arrests were made under the initial investigation – called Operation Cabin – despite thousands of man hours and more than £750,000 in resources being used during various searches.

Police believe she was murdered but no body has even been found despite exhaustive searches in the local area.

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