The detective leading the investigation into the disappearance of York chef Claudia Lawrence today claimed that lying witnesses had stopped police from solving the case after prosecutors refused to charge four men suspected of her murder.
The Crown Prosecution Service have ruled that there is “insufficient evidence” to prove any of the men arrested by North Yorkshire Police last year had anything to do with Miss Lawrence going missing in March 2009.
In a major setback for the team of cold case detectives set up to solve one of the region’s highest profile mysteries, the CPS has advised that no further action should be taken against the men, who were arrested in the York area in March and April last year.
A spokesman for Miss Lawrence’s father said the decision meant the new investigation into his daughter’s disappearance had turned out to be “another false dawn in an already forlorn situation”.
Responding to the decision, Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn of North Yorkshire Police, said his two-and-a-half-year investigation, was “compromised by the reluctance of some, and refusal of others, to co-operate with police enquiries”.
The review by North Yorkshire’s major crime team in 2013 followed on the original investigation prompted by the disappearance of Miss Lawrence from her home in York at some point overnight between 18 and 19 March, 2009.
I am left with the inescapable conclusion that this case could still be solved if only people were honest with us. The fact that they are not is agonising for Claudia’s family and they should be ashamed of themselves.Dai Malyn, North Yorkshire Police
Mr Malyn said: “I am sure that there are some people who know, or who have very strong suspicions about, what happened to Claudia. For whatever reason, they have either refused to come forward, or have been economic with the truth.
“I am left with the inescapable conclusion that this case could still be solved if only people were honest with us. The fact that they are not is agonising for Claudia’s family and they should be ashamed of themselves.
“A man was filmed by a CCTV camera in Lime Court, Heworth Road, very close to Claudia’s house, on the morning after she vanished.
“Our review managed to unearth additional CCTV footage from that same camera shot the previous evening which appears to show the same man in the same place.
“We had this footage examined by a number of experts in the UK and abroad, but it is only as good as the camera and it cannot be enhanced using current techniques. Despite exhaustive efforts, we have not been able to identify the man.
“The lack of extended CCTV footage from that CCTV camera on the days and weeks either side of Claudia’s disappearance, has been one of our biggest frustrations and is typical of the type of challenge that faces a cold case review team.
“We have reviewed material seized by the original team and, wherever possible, looked to see if additional material could be secured.
“We don’t know if that man was in the area as a matter of daily routine, or whether his appearance is of critical significance.
“I believe he must be local to the area, and despite extensive appeals, he hasn’t come forward. I can only speculate why he hasn’t done so, and whether someone is protecting him.”
Martin Dales, spokesman for Miss Lawrence’s father Peter, said: “I know Peter, the family and Claudia’s friends will be feeling that the search for what has happened to Claudia seems to have turned out to be yet another false dawn in an already forlorn situation.
“The police have worked tirelessly to try and find answers but currently without success. It is nearly the 7th anniversary of Claudia disappearing and it seems that we’re all back to square one: it’s really quite depressing especially as someone is clearly withholding the information needed.”
Peter Mann, Head of Complex Casework Unit at CPS Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “A file of evidence was presented to the CPS in December 2015 by North Yorkshire Police, in relation to four men from the York area.
“The suspects were arrested in March and April 2015 on suspicion of the murder of Claudia Lawrence, who went missing in March 2009.
“We have carefully and thoroughly examined all the evidence presented to us in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
“We have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove that any of the men had any involvement in Claudia’s disappearance. Therefore, we have advised the police that no further action should be taken.”
Mr Malyn said it was possible that a complete stranger was responsible for Miss Lawrence’s disappearance, but that he “strongly favoured” the theory that those involved were close to the missing chef.
He said: “It was either very well-planned or there was a huge element of luck to have got away with it, so far at least. In my view they have probably been helped by the fact that those closely associated with Claudia have withheld key information.
“The team has worked tirelessly to get a breakthrough in this case and I thank every one of them for this. I’m hopeful one day we will get that bit of luck or that a courageous person will step forward to give us that break.”
The detective said he respected the decision made by the CPS and that his team would “continue to thoroughly assess any new leads and information”.
He said: “We remind those who we suspect are withholding key information about Claudia that we will not give up our quest to find the truth.
“As we move towards the seventh anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, we hope the public will continue to help us and provide that vital information the family and we need to find out what happened to Claudia.”
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.
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.
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.