Diana Lamplugh: Activist whose daughter's disappearance inspired a national campaign for personal safety

Diana Lamplugh suffered any parent's worst nightmare: her beautiful, beloved and sparky daughter Suzy, a trainee estate agent, arranged to meet a client, a "Mr Kipper", at a house in Fulham, west London, on a July afternoon in 1986. She went off to the appointment and disappeared. What happened to Suzy is still not known 25 years later.

That the name of Suzy Lamplugh is so widely known is in large part due to the determination and energy her mother Diana showed. She felt an enormous desperation – "on fire" was how she described her state of mind at the time. She immediately galvanised the search, using the media and putting pressure on the police. She also sought, from early on, to find ways of preventing what happened to her daughter from happening to others.

A neighbour, Colin Morris, clergyman, broadcaster and author, was one of many who offered comfort and support. He encouraged her to channel the sudden rush of whirlwind energy for the public good. She arranged a conference in London, chaired by Libby Purves, which asked what could be done to ensure what later came to be called "personal safety". Lamplugh's energy, persuasiveness and charm drew in delegates from a variety of organisations. This led to the creation of The Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

A few months after Suzy's disappearance Paul was made redundant by the Law Society, where he had worked for nearly 20 years. This was painful, but it allowed Paul to use his administrative abilities to back up Diana's gifts of presentation and persuasion. By the end of 1986 the Trust had been formed. The Lamplughs turned their Edwardian house in East Sheen into an office, sometimes with staff or volunteers in every room. The Trust took on the task of educating trainers in personal safety; Lamplugh wrote manuals and toured the country talking about personal safety. She had a gift for finding the right people to talk to, and an ability to pick brains in an area of which she had no specialist knowledge until tragedy struck.

As a speaker she was eloquent. She assimilated information rapidly and she drove the Trust forward, co-operating with other organisations and expanding the Trust's scope without becoming territorial. There were difficult, controversial times in the late 1980s. Lamplugh's single-minded energy and lobbying gave her a high profile. In 1988 a journalist Andrew Stephen wrote a debunking book, The Suzy Lamplugh Story, which caused a great deal of pain. They had signed a contract with Faber to provide information for the book; they talked at length to Stephen but found his first draft an inaccurate portrait of both Suzy and Diana. A lengthy legal battle ensued, but the book was published. For a time the controversy disrupted the work of the Trust: at one point all four trustees resigned. However, Diana with the help of influential people, quickly found new trustees.

Lamplugh wanted, above all, to recover Suzy's body. She began to realise that the original police investigation had been flawed. This was admitted in 2002 and a review of the case was undertaken. The Metropolitan Police named a man in prison for other murders to whom circumstantial evidence pointed as the likely killer. But the evidence was not specific enough to allow a prosecution.

For 17 years Lamplugh continued the work of the Trust at an extraordinary level of intensity. She wrote many books, of which Personal Safety for Schools (1996) is probably the best known. Honours and honorary degrees flowed: she was awarded an OBE in 1992 and honorary doctorates by the universities of Sheffield Hallam, Glamorgan, Oxford Brookes and Portsmouth. These degrees gave Diana – condemned as a "failure" at school – special satisfaction.

Diana Howell was born in July 1936 in Cheltenham. Her family was of Welsh origin but had been in the town for two generations. Her father David Howell was a well-known solicitor who also loved amateur acting. He instilled into his daughter the idea of "projection". A "difficult" child, she was sent to a boarding school, Westonbirt . She was slightly dyslexic and the school failed to discover her academic potential, so she left at 16 and qualified as a secretary. After working in a school she found a more exciting job, as general factotum for the Carl Rosa Opera company. She toured Britain, often taking her Vespa scooter with her, revealing a precocious talent for organisation.

It was probably this experience which qualified her for her next job, secretary to Kenneth Adam, Cont-roller of Television at the BBC. She developed the skill of speed-reading, attacking with gusto the pile of books which arrived almost daily for her boss's attention and summarising their contents for him.

In 1958 she married a solicitor, Paul Lamplugh, whom she had met in Cheltenham. All of their offspring, Richard (born 1960), Tamsin (1961), Suzannah (1962) and Lizzie (1970), were dyslexic, and all except Suzy were sent to boarding schools with dyslexic units.

Lamplugh began to make her name as a remarkable swimming teacher. "She taught young people, the elderly, people who were terrified of water, anyone – she changed lives," says Paul. Then in the late 1960s she met an exercise guru called Pamela Nottidge who wanted to publish her popular exercises and asked Lamplugh to do the job for her by writing a book. Thus Slimnastics (1970) was born. Lamplugh began to run exercise classes. She next began to research healthy eating, then stress, and published Stress and Overstress (1974).

She set up the British Slimnastics Association which eventually trained 350 Slimnastics Leaders. By the mid-1970s she was directing huge Slimnastics rallies at the Talk of the Town in Leicester Square, at the Barbican and the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

By this time her daughters Suzy and Tamsin were late teenagers, with a frictional relationship with their parents; Diana and Paul found a delightful house in Fulham for them. Suzy had qualified as a beautician, circling the globe on the QE2. After this she took up a career as an estate agent.

On the evening of the day in 1986 when she did not come back from her appointment, Diana and Paul walked along the towpath on the banks of the Thames at Fulham, calling her name, helplessly, far into the night. But there was nothing helpless about Diana's later reaction to what had happened.

Diana had a vision of an international role for the Trust, but by 2000 she was slowing down. In 2003 she had a stroke. Then Alzheimer's was diagnosed. She moved to a care home in Twickenham. She was not able to appreciate the moment when a National Centre for Personal Safety opened in London in 2004.

Diana Howell, campaigner on personal safety: born Cheltenham 30 July 1936; married 1958 Paul Lamplugh (one son, two daughters, and one daughter presumed deceased); died 18 August 2011.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home