Throughout the pain and uncertainty of the last eight years, as she waits in hope for answers about what has happened to her daughter Claudia, Joan Lawrence has often relied on others for support.
A woman of faith, and a self-described ‘people person’, she has drawn on the compassion shown by locals in the town of Norton, North Yorkshire, where she lives, neighbouring Malton, where she serves as a town councillor, and her home town of Darlington.
She is also able to lean on another source of strength, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who made contact in the agonising days after Claudia went missing in 2009 and has been a good friend ever since.
I think I will be the one to find out, I have got that feeling that I will be the one to find out what’s happened.Joan Lawrence
“He looks out for me,” she said. “He said to me ‘you must never ever give up hope’. I get little things in the post from him. We always have a hug when we meet up. He is a lovely man.”
For her part, the 73-year-old has offered her support to others in their hour of need. A keen artist, she sends cards featuring her own watercolour paintings to the families of missing people.
And she has reached out to Claire Throssell, the mother of two young boys who in 2014 were killed in a house fire in Penistone started by their own father, stopping in to see her on her way to visit her eldest daughter, Ali.
“There is always someone out there worse off than me, and I give thanks for what I’ve got,” she said. “I couldn’t do it on my own, I really couldn’t.”
Mrs Lawrence reflects on the kindness shown to her as she speaks to The Yorkshire Post from a hotel in Malton this week, ahead of the eighth anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance.
A popular and hard-working University of York chef, Claudia was last seen near her home in the Heworth area of the city on March 18, 2009. That evening she spoke to her mother, making plans to spend Mother’s Day together.
After she failed to arrive at work the next day, a missing person’s investigation was launched by North Yorkshire Police that quickly became national news and eventually the highest profile investigation in the history of the county force.
After a criminal investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway, which Mrs Lawrence felt missed opportunities to find out what really happened to Claudia, the case was resurrected by the force’s Major Crime Unit in 2013.
But three years and £1 million later, and with not enough evidence to charge four men suspected of Claudia’s murder, the investigation was scaled down.
With the case still unresolved, Mrs Lawrence, who this week has been doing media interviews in the hope of encouraging new witnesses to come forward, will shortly face another Mothering Sunday without her daughter.
“Every day is different,” she said. “When you get up you don’t know how it is going to be and how you are going to make it through the day and you just take it one day at a time.
“You don’t know what is going to happen, who is going to be out there, who is going to call you. One morning the police turned up at 8am and said someone had been arrested. I was still in my dressing gown.”
Asked about her future plans, she says she plans to follow in the footsteps of Kate and Gerry McCann, with whom she occasionally exchanges cards and letters, by writing a book.
“I have been thinking of going on the speaking circuit, I have been thinking about it for a while now,” she said.
“I have done public speaking at the WI and all that, so it is nothing new to me, but this is something that is very personal. I have got to think of ways of keeping it out there.”
The anger Mrs Lawrence feels at the failings of the original investigation into her daughter’s disappearance is unmistakable, but she has struck up a warm relationship with Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn, who leads the review team.
“Dai Malyn is human, he is the first one involved who is human,” she said. “The previous team weren’t human at all. There was no sensitivity and no tact whatsoever.
“This one is 100 per cent better but because the first team messed up so much he has had a very hard task to take it all on. He is absolutely dedicated to it.
“The police never once asked about Claudia, what her hobbies were, what her interests were, what she did, anything, so they never had a picture of her.
“One of the first things Dai did was to ask ‘can you tell us a bit about Claudia’. I said ‘it has taken five years for this to come out’.”
She adds: “Dai says at the moment that he has been inundated with clairvoyants, because it’s getting near an anniversary. I am skeptical, but I wouldn’t turn it down completely.”
Though the investigation is now in a ‘reactive’ phase, DNA work is still being done at Claudia’s house and Mrs Lawrence considers the case to be far from closed.
She is now going to the Heworth area, where Claudia lived, more regularly, and has been back to her daughter’s house, an act she described as “very hard, very emotional, very difficult”. This week she went through some of her daughter’s clothes, discovering a dress she had never worn.
“At one stage [Claudia’s father] Peter said he wanted to sell [the house] but I just had this gut feeling we might need it again and we did because we got a new team in. I fought like mad to get that new team in, and as soon as they started they went over the house. If we had sold it, that wouldn’t have happened.
“I won’t sell it until I know what has happened to her, it is not mine to sell. I still have money in my desk from the sale of her car.
“I know how hard she worked to get that car, and to get her house, and to get everything in it. To have a mortgage on a chef’s pay, she worked her butt off for that.”
Mrs Lawrence says she offered to go to a nearby pub that featured heavily in the police investigation in the hope that her presence might get locals to open up, but was advised against it.
“It is the human side where the answers will come, not the book,” she said. “John Sentamu told me that the police go by the book, but I’ve always said, there is a human side to this story, and that is where the answers will come, not the other side.
“I think I will be the one to find out, I have got that feeling that I will be the one to find out what’s happened. You don’t give up. Until I get that knock at the door we have got hope.
“People have got to think back, it is a long time. Can they think back to what they were doing on the 18th,19th of March 2009? It could be someone’s family member involved in this and people are hiding or don’t want to say.
“We are coming up to Mothering Sunday, for other Mums out there to think, if it was their child, can they imagine what it would be like to be eight years down the line and not know.”
If you have any information that could assist the investigation, contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, or call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.