Four men arrested on suspicion of the murder of York chef Claudia Lawrence have been released without charge – as detectives admit their frustration at their failure to solve the case.
Seven years after Claudia went missing, and two and a half years after a new police team reviewed the original investigation, we are no nearer to knowing what happened to her.
A 20-strong team of police have worked full-time on the investigation since 2013, at a cost of £800,000. But they have been unable to find evidence of who was to blame for her sudden disappearance between 18 and 19 March 2009.
It was revealed on Tuesday that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided not bring charges against four men who were arrested last year as a result of the review’s work on suspicion of Claudia’s murder.
‘They should be ashamed’
Police say their efforts have been hampered by a lack of data, CCTV and other evidence from the time – and by the refusal of key people to cooperate with their inquiries.
Det Supt Dai Malyn, the head of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Crime Unit, has led the review.
“I am sure that there are some people who know, or who have very strong suspicions about, what happened to Claudia,” he said. “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.”
CCTV figure remains a mystery
Det Supt Malyn believes a man pictured by a CCTV camera walking near to Claudia’s house at the time of her disappearance “remains the most important person to trace”.
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.
The investigation in numbers
There are more than 6,500 names on the Holmes database linked to the case.
Added to this there are 2,326 Criminal Justice Act (CJA) statements made by 1,215 people, including those made by police officers and police staff during the original enquiry.
Also, 3,488 officers’ reports have been logged, and 1,771 vehicles recorded.
The review team has also:
Conducted 25 video recorded witness interviews
Conducted 48 video recorded interviews under caution
Conducted search warrants at seven business premises and 31 private dwellings (this includes multiple searches of individual premises)
Reviewed more than 500 permissive searches around Claudia’s home and route to work – mainly gardens but some premises
Forensically examined 64 scenes (39 from original investigation and 25 during the review)
Examined 337 items for fingerprint evidence (217 from original investigation and 120 during the review)
Obtained 273 fingerprints (135 from original investigation and 138 during the review)
Examined 210 items for DNA evidence
Completed 95% of 7,514 actions that have been raised during the review (the remaining 5% have been risk-assessed and deemed low-priority)
Roll call of experts
These are the experts consulted over the case:
Numerous national experts have helped to support the review, including:
National Interview Advisor
National Family Liaison Lead
Behavioural Intelligence Analyst
Forensic Podiatrist (interpreting the way people walk from CCTV footage)
National search advisor
Forensic ecologist for potential scene excavation, including use of ground penetrating radar
Digital forensics and data recovery consultant
Specialist communications data advisor (interpreting telecoms data)
Consultant engineer and expert witness specialising in radio navigation and communications systems (examination of sat-navs)
Regional Imagery Unit and specialist companies regarding enhancement of CCTV footage
Regional forensic resources
Specialist police marine, air support and dog units for searching and obtaining imagery
Six arrested – but no one charged
As a result of the review, a 59-year-old local man was arrested on 13 May 2014 on suspicion of Claudia’s murder. He was later released from bail.
On 23 July 2014, a 46-year-old local man was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. He was released without charge following advice from the CPS.
On the sixth anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, detectives released the previously unseen CCTV footage of the man acting suspiciously in Lime Court.
It was recorded at around 7.15pm on 18 March 2009, about an hour before Claudia spoke to her mum and dad on the phone.
Shortly after releasing this footage, four local men were arrested (on 23 March and on 22 April 2015) on suspicion of murder.
They were all released from bail on 17 September 2015 to allow the necessary time for the CPS to assess a file of evidence presented by the team and to consider whether to bring charges.
Today (Tuesday 8 March 2016) North Yorkshire Police confirmed the CPS decision that the four men will not be charged with any offences.
Why they were arrested
Det Supt Malyn said he respected the decision made by the Crown Prosecution Service, but defended his decision to arrest the men.
We do not arrest people without weighing up the proportionality and justification for the arrest. To eliminate people from an enquiry, we sometimes have to search for evidence that either supports their alibis or not.
Seven years on this is more difficult to do just relying on memory, therefore if it is justified, proportionate and necessary, we will arrest or apply for search warrants.
The investigation team will continue to thoroughly assess any new leads and information.
Was it someone she knew?
Claudia, who worked as a chef at York University and lived on Heworth Road, was 35 when she went missing. Det Supt Malyn said her abductor could have been a complete stranger
“However, I still strongly favour the theory that the person – or persons – responsible for Claudia’s disappearance was someone – or several people – who were close to her,” 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.”
He praised his team for their tireless work, adding:
I also know what a fraught and painful process this has been for them as they continue their desperate search for answers about Claudia’s disappearance.
I have personally told them that North Yorkshire Police will never give up on Claudia. The case will remain open until the day Claudia has been found and those responsible for her suspected murder are brought to justice.
His words were echoed by Assistant Chief Constable Paul Kennedy, who has overseen the review of the investigation:
This investigation will never be closed before we find the truth. If new information comes to light about Claudia Lawrence or anyone involved in her disappearance and suspected murder, North Yorkshire Police will act immediately.
How to help the police
|Call North Yorkshire Police on 101, and pass details to the Force Control Room. Please quote “Claudia Lawrence” when passing on details|
|Or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111|