Claudia Lawrence police drain lake: Search for missing chef enters grim new phase as officers comb clay pit mud for clues 12 years after she was last seen
- Specialist officers seen working in drained lake in Sand Hutton, north Yorkshire as police probe intensifies
- The two smallest of the two fishing ponds was emptied as experts scoured the lake bed for clues and prints
- Detectives are continuing to hunt for missing chef Claudia Lawrence, who was last seen in York in 2009
- Last week forensic teams began scouring the gravel pits and surrounding area after new lines of inquiry arose
Police continuing the hunt for Claudia Lawrence have drained a fishing lake in their latest desperate bid for clues more than a decade after her disappearance.
Six specialist officers were pictured working in Sand Hutton, North Yorkshire – which is eight miles from the missing chef’s York home – after they began searching the area around the gravel pit just days ago.
Experts used machinery to remove mud, rotten vegetation and rocks from beneath the surface of the water, while officers on land conducted fingertip searches through the leafy woodland as the hunt intensified.
The owners of the land carried out a study into the terrain and surroundings two years ago and the results, which were recently passed to police, are believed to have triggered the new searches.
Detectives left the smaller of the two lakes empty, as Claudia’s mother Joan, 78, reiterated her fear of bad news as the police probe escalates.
She told The Mirror: ‘As a mum, hearing about a lake being drained and a fingertip search being carried is just a nightmare.
‘No parent should ever have to endure this. I’m left wondering every day what is going on and what might be found.
‘Would it be her rucksack, her phone or anything at all?’
Specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams, and forensic experts have spent recent days at the site.
Joan revealed she was not informed by police that they were planning to drain Sand Hutton’s gravel lakes, and suspects they are working on a new line of investigation.
‘The police must know something to go to all this work,’ she told the Mirror.
‘They know something and I don’t – the not knowing is awful. I can’t get on with life while Claudia is missing.
‘It affects every minute of my day. I’ve started having really awful nightmares again. This is the reality of living with a missing child and a live investigation.
‘I am begging anyone with any information to come forward and end this eternal pain I have to endure constantly.’
The disappearance of Claudia Lawrence
March 18 – Miss Lawrence speaks with her parents over the phone and, at 8.23pm, sends her friend a text. She has not been seen or heard from since.
March 20 – Miss Lawrence’s father, Peter, contacts North Yorkshire Police after his daughter fails to keep an arrangement to meet a friend at the Nags Head pub. She also fails to attend work.
March 23 – Mr Lawrence describes his daughter’s disappearance as a ‘living nightmare’ during a news conference in York.
April 24 – Detectives say that Miss Lawrence’s disappearance is being treated as a suspected murder investigation. A £10,000 reward is offered for information that could lead to the conviction of those responsible.
May 6 – Mr Lawrence calls for an urgent independent inquiry into the police investigation of his daughter’s disappearance and suspected murder.
July 29 – Police confirm they are reducing the number of officers dedicated to the inquiry into Miss Lawrence’s disappearance.
October 29 – A new forensic search of Miss Lawrence’s home is announced as police launch a fresh review of the case.
March 19 – Five years on from Miss Lawrence’s disappearance, officers discover at her home the fingerprints of people who have still not come forward to the investigation.
May 13 – A 59-year-old man is arrested on suspicion of murder. He is released on police bail and eventually released without charge on November 17, 2014.
March 23 – A man in his 50s is arrested on suspicion of murdering Miss Lawrence and is released on police bail the following day.
April 22 – Three more men, all in their 50s and from the York area, are arrested on suspicion of murder and are released on bail.
September 17 – A file of evidence on four men arrested on suspicion of murder is sent by North Yorkshire Police to the Crown Prosecution service (CPS) so it can consider whether to bring charges.
March 8 – Police say the CPS has decided the four men will not face charges.
January 17 – Mr Lawrence says he is ‘hugely depressed and disappointed’ as the investigation into his daughter’s disappearance is scaled down.
March – Nearly a decade on from her disappearance, Miss Lawrence has still not been found. Her father says in an interview that ‘it’s very difficult’ to conceive of her still being alive.
July – The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill, also known as Claudia’s Law, came into force. This followed years of campaigning by Mr Lawrence and allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.
February 15 – The death of Peter Lawrence in announced.
March 18 – Speaking after taking over the police investigation, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox said it is not too late for people to come forward and stop the ‘unrelenting anguish’ caused to the chef’s loved ones.
August 24 – A new search operation is announced at the gravel pits at Sand Hutton, about eight miles from York.
Miss Lawrence, who lived by herself in the Heworth area of York, failed to arrive for work at the University of York on March 18, 2009 and was reported missing by her father Peter Lawrence two days later, after her friends said they had not heard from her…In the twelve years since her disappearance, nine people have been questioned by officers, but no charges have ever been brought.
The case – which is being treated as a suspected murder – has never been closed by North Yorkshire Police.
Police believe Ms Lawrence – who worked at York University – was murdered, although no body has ever been found.
Her father Mr Lawrence – who campaigned tirelessly for Claudia’s Law, which allows relatives to control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters – died in February aged 74, without finding out what happened to her. His friend Martin Dales said earlier this year that there could be one or more people ‘at large’ who knew what happened to her.
Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox said: ‘I thank the public for the positive responses and new information received in support of the current phase of the investigation.
‘Our focus is on finding Claudia and bringing those responsible for her disappearance and suspected murder to justice.’
It came as Claudia’s mother Joan Lawrence said she feared the double killer Christopher Halliwell could be connected to the case.
Keen fisherman and cabbie Halliwell, 57, is behind bars for life for murdering Sian O’Callaghan, 22, and Becky Godden, 20, after snatching them from nightclubs.
But many connected to his case believe he has further victims, including Ms Godden’s mother who has previously said she knew of a witness who saw Halliwell talking to Claudia back in 2019 before she disappeared.
Stephen Fulcher – the detective superintendent who caught the killer – has also gone on record to say there were ‘clear indications’ he had other victims, although did not go as far as name them.
The date of the year Claudia disappeared, March 18, 2009, is also the same date years later Halliwell abducted and killed Sian.
It is thought the day is significant because he was dumped on that same day by an ex over a decade ago.
Joan explained: ‘Something always bothered me about Halliwell and leaves me feeling very uneasy.
‘The police may not have proved he had anything to do with my daughter’s disappearance, but they haven’t disproved it either,’ she added to the Mirror.
Earlier this week, Joan Lawrence said she has been doing everything to keep herself busy after police scoured woodland and a fishing lake eight miles from her York home yesterday.
She explained: ‘It’s been truly awful and every parent’s worst nightmare.
‘I’d rather have no news than bad news, but I do dread there being bad news. I pray for answers every day. I am really thrown by what is happening now.
‘They’ve made me nervous. What are they searching for? The bag, for the phone? For her? I’m worried about my daughter but it’s always been my instinct that she is still alive. I can’t give up hope. That’s what keeps me going.’
She said the constant stress she has lived with for 12 years since Claudia’s disappearance has left her with alopecia and having to wear wigs.
The police’s sudden interest in the area at Sand Hutton to the east of York could only have been sparked by new information, a friend told MailOnline last week.
Experts explained they expected the specialist divers to dredge the lake to conduct ‘fine fingertip searches’ and use ‘underwater metal detectors’ to scour the area for evidence.
Peter Faulding of Specialist Group International, a diving forensic team not involved in this search, told MailOnline it appeared as if they were trying to displace silt and debris on the lake floor.
He said: ‘I think what they are doing is using a suction dredge that will remove gravel and leaf mould from the pit by sucking it to the surface where is passes through a mesh to enable the forensic teams to look for any evidence.
‘This suction dredge is controlled by a diver on the bottom in a specific grid pattern so nothing is missed.
‘They will also be conducting fine fingertip searches over the same area and using underwater metal detectors for items of jewelry and other evidence.
‘I would imagine they are searching with some very good intelligence.’
Martin Dales, a friend of Miss Lawrence’s late father Peter, told MailOnline: ‘The police did everything they could at the time, searching the river, the waters at the university.
‘You don’t press the button on an operation like this unless there is a good reason for it.
‘There must have been some kind of new information about this area.
‘I can think of a lot of places as far away that have not been searched before.
‘I don’t know where the decision to search here has come from – nobody knew anything about it.’