Detective defends use of picture in hunt for missing chef Claudia

THE detective leading the search for missing Claudia Lawrence yesterday has insisted that a photograph of her issued by his force is an accurate image.

Concerns have been raised that the photo could actually be hindering the inquiry because Miss Lawrence dyed her hair brown shortly before she vanished last month.

The photo of her released by North Yorkshire Police appears to show her with a lighter-coloured style, but Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway was adamant that it is a good likeness of the missing York University chef.

Friends have said the photo issued by police shows Miss Lawrence with lighter hair which had been bleached by the sun after a holiday in Cyprus.

Miss Lawrence's stylist, Nick Brignell, revealed he coloured her hair using a darker dye than usual three-and-a-half weeks before she disappeared.

Mr Brignell, who works at the Harry Nicholas salon in Colliergate in York, said: "She used to ring me up after an appointment to tell me I'd made it too blonde, so on this occasion we weaved some dark through it instead to make it more brown."

But Det Supt Galloway claimed yesterday he was "satisfied" the photograph is a good likeness and that family, friends and staff at Miss Lawrence's hair salon had been consulted regarding its accuracy.

He added: "The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) has to make a decision in terms of the images available to the investigation team and whether those images are an accurate representation of the person being sought.

"The SIO in this case is satisfied that the images being used are accurate."

The police inquiry is coming under increasing scrutiny after detectives have yet to trace Miss Lawrence, who was last seen five weeks ago today.

The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that potential leads have not been pursued for up to four weeks by officers swamped by the amount of information they have received.

However, Det Supt Galloway stressed he believed enough resources have been devoted to the inquiry, which involves more than 50 detectives.

He said: "The information received is considered and assessed as part of a methodical and structured process that is well proven and established in relation to the investigation of major crime.

"Any subsequent action taken is within the context of all of the information known to the investigation team and the priorities of the SIO.

"The SIO is satisfied that he has all of the resources necessary to progress the investigation effectively and efficiently."

Miss Lawrence, 35, was last seen on March 18 after she finished work at York University.

Detectives are investigating the sighting of a couple seen arguing in the early hours of Thursday, March 19. Miss Lawrence was due to start work at 6am that day, but never arrived.

Police are also investigating a woman motorist's claim that as she drove by Miss Lawrence's Heworth Road home in York in slow-moving traffic she saw two men outside her front door on either March 10 or March 13.

Miss Lawrence, who lives alone, vanished without taking any money, bank cards, or her passport. She is described as white, about 5ft 6in, slim with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and trainers.

Anyone with information should call 0845 6060247 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.