Claudia Lawrence: Police searching gravel pits in hunt for missing University of York chef

ITV News Correspondent Hannah Miller reports on the latest police search for Claudia Lawrence

Police have begun searching gravel pits in York as part of an investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of local chef Claudia Lawrence.

35-year-old Ms Lawrence was reported missing on March 18 2009 after she failed to turn up for an early morning shift at the University of York.

North Yorkshire Police have questioned nine people in relation to Miss Lawrence’s but no one has ever been charged.

On Tuesday, the force revealed they had begun searching Sand Hutton Gravel Pits - eight miles from Ms Lawrence's home in York.

Joan Lawrence reacts to the new search operation in connection with her daughter's disappearance

Speaking at the scene, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, who took over as senior investigating officer in the case earlier this year, said: “The searches which have commenced here today at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits are in relation to the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence more than 12 years ago.

"I anticipate that a number of specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams and forensic experts are likely to be at this location for a number of days," he added.

He did not disclose why the Sand Hutton Gravel Pit was being searched but added that it was "one of several active lines of inquiry.

Police officers searching the land at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits near York. Credit: Mark Brickerdike/PA

Even Ms Lawrence's mother, Joan, did not know what had sparked the new search operation.

She said: "I don’t know where they’ve got the information from or who has passed it on. Something must’ve happened to stir this up. It's just really hard. It's been the not knowing all along and the carrying on as though everything is normal."

Ms Lawrence lived in the Heworth area of York and her disappearance has been the subject of widespread speculation.

Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox issues an update on the 'disappearance and suspected murder' of Claudia Lawrence

Earlier this year, Det Supt Fox repeated North Yorkshire Police’s believe that several people know, or have suspicions about, what happened to the 35-year-old.

He said some of the information received by the force “appears extremely interesting and sparks a whole new line of investigation”, and he urged anyone providing this information to get back in touch with as much detail as possible.

Ms Lawrence's father Peter died in February this year, after a 12-year campaign to find out what happened to his daughter.

The timeline of the 12-year hunt for missing Claudia Lawrence

March 18 2009

Ms Lawrence was last seen at around 3.05pm walking towards her home.

Ms Lawrence spoke to her mum, Joan, and dad, Peter, that evening over the telephone. They both said she was in good spirits.

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March 19 2009

Ms Lawrence fails to turn up to her 6am shift. In the evening, she also doesn't attend the Nags Head pub, where she had previously agreed to meet her friend.

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March 20 2009

Peter Lawrence reports his daughter missing to North Yorkshire Police.

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April 24 2009

Detectives say that Ms 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.

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May 13 2014

A 59-year-old man is arrested on suspicion of murder. He is released on police bail and eventually released without charge six months later.

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March 19 2014

Five years on from Ms Lawrence’s disappearance, officers searching her home discover the fingerprints of people who have still not come forward to the investigation.

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March 23 2015

A man in his 50s is arrested on suspicion of murdering Ms Lawrence and released on police bail the following day.

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April 22 2015

Three more men, all in their 50s and from the York area, are arrested on suspicion of murder and are released on bail.

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September 17 2015

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. The CPS decides the men won't be charged.

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January 17 2017

Mr Lawrence says he is “hugely depressed and disappointed” as the investigation into his daughter’s disappearance is scaled down.

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July 31 2019

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.

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February 15 2021

The death of Peter Lawrence is announced.

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August 24 2021

A new search operation is announced at the gravel pits at Sand Hutton, about eight miles from York.

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Mr Lawrence campaigned tirelessly to get answers to the puzzle of her disappearance and spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.

Police closed off a road outside the York Biotech Campus earlier on Tuesday.

Search activity could be seen taking place beyond the cordon around a mile from the main A64 road between York and Malton.

Claudia and her father Peter Lawrence

A number of police vans and an incident command unit trailer were parked along the side of the quiet, tree-lined road – and a number of areas of the forest were cordoned off with blue and white police tape.

Police officers, wearing black uniform, could be seen searching the undergrowth along a public bridleway through the forest.

The search area includes two former gravel pits, that are believed to have been used as fishing ponds since 1969.