A close friend of Claudia Lawrence has said that she fears the tenth anniversary of her disappearance could be the last chance to draw widespread public attention to the case.
Jen King, Suzy Cooper and Martin and Hazel Dales - all friends of Miss Lawrence and her father Peter Lawrence - came together to light ten candles at York Minster; one for each year that has passed since she was last seen a decade ago, during a poignant event earlier today.
Mr Lawrence was due to join them but had to pull out after being taken ill in the days leading up to the anniversary.
His daughter, who worked at the University of York, vanished on March 18, 2009 at the age of 35.
Although no body has ever been found, North Yorkshire Police have been treating her disappearance as a suspected murder investigation.
After the candles were lit today at the Minster’s Lady Chapel, beneath the historic building’s Great East Window, some of Miss Lawrence’s closest friends told of the pain that they and her family continue to endure as they issued fresh pleas for answers about her disappearance.
Ms King, 34, said: “Ten years on, I worry that after this year there won’t be as much interest in her because there won’t be any notable anniversary - that this might be our last chance to get her name out there and people know she is still missing.”
But she added: “I will stand here every year if I have to. It’s been ten years but we haven’t given up on her. She was loved, is loved and will continue to be loved by us all.”
Mr Dales, who is a close friend of Mr Lawrence and has often acted as his spokesman, said that anyone who is withholding information about Miss Lawrence’s disappearance after all this time was seriously misguided.
“Somebody out there in the public arena knows what has happened and for whatever reason doesn’t have the guts to go out and impart that relevant information to the police that might bring closure to the issue to the family and that’s the key to it.
“People have no sense of the anguish that the family go through because someone has this misguided conception of withholding truth,” said Mr Dales, who explained that this sense of misguidedness was a key notion that Mr Lawrence had wanted to get across at the anniversary gathering.
Mr Lawrence was taken ill last week and has been housebound since as he recuperates, his friend said.
“Peter was very insistent with us carrying on with the event. The key thing is, it’s about Claudia,” Mr Dales added. “We are just the conduit for the grief and the agony that the family are going through throughout these ten years.”
He said: “There’s been a huge amount of build up to this anniversary, we have been doing work on this since November so that it wasn’t all too pressurised at once and I suppose in a sense it worked in one way but we are where we are and Peter is not physically here but he is certainly here in spirit.”
A decade of unanswered questions has taken a heavy toll admitted Ms Cooper and Ms King.
Ms Cooper told of being “stuck in grief”, while Ms King admitted the ongoing ordeal had made her ill.
Ms King said: “It’s been “very hard. I’ve been poorly, I think we’ve all been poorly to a certain degree.
“You don’t get over it, you just get on with it, that’s all you can do and until we do know one way or another (what has happened to Claudia) that’s all we will continue to do.”
She urged anyone with undisclosed information about her friend’s disappearance to come forward.
“If anyone has an inkling, I don’t even care who you are, you don’t need to tell us who you are, you can phone anonymously and leave a message at Crimestoppers or a police station, I don’t care about you, I want my friend back.
“Whether she is alive or she has passed away we just need to know,” Ms King said.
And Ms Cooper added: “The hope is that we will (get answers) but as every year goes on that kind of diminishes a little bit.
“If there is somebody out there who knows something, if they haven’t come through after ten years, then what is it that’s going to make them change their mind?”
Explaining the impact on her own life, she said: “When somebody goes missing there is no process to follow so you get stuck in grief. I don’t people around me so I’ve done it alone which has made it really difficult but I’m still here fighting to find Claudia.”
POLICE INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
An announcement over the PA system at York Minster on the tenth anniversary of Claudia Lawrence’s disappearance today asked visitors to think of Miss Lawrence and her family as the Lord’s Prayer was read out.
The trauma for her family and friends continues, with North Yorkshire Police’s investigation so far yielding no conclusive evidence of what happened to Miss Lawrence after she was last seen on March 18, 2009.
Nine people have been arrested or interviewed under caution in connection with what has become a suspected murder investigation.
Police had submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to a number of individuals, but there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
In a statement yesterday, Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn said police strongly suspect key and vital information is being withheld and that the answer to Miss Lawrence’s disappearance lies locally, and that he and his team do not believe that she fell victim to an attack by a stranger.