Cyprus clue to missing chef

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police investigating the disappearance of missing chef Claudia Lawrence said today they have extended their investigation to Cyprus.

North Yorkshire Police said detectives have been sent to the Mediterranean island to try to find a man the 35-year-old knew.

Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway, who is leading the investigation, was speaking at a news conference to mark six months since the York University chef was last seen.

Mr Galloway said the last text message Miss Lawrence received at 9.12pm on 18 March was from a man in Cyprus.

Mr Galloway said: "Officers from the team investigating the suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence have been sent to Cyprus as a result of lines of inquiry that have developed over the course of the investigation.

"The last text message that Claudia received at 9.12pm on Wednesday 18 March 2009 was from a friend in Cyprus.

"It is not known whether Claudia ever opened this last text message; therefore there has always been a link to Cyprus.

"However, over the course of the investigation it has become apparent that Claudia knew several people who live on the island, and it is believed that during her visits to Cyprus she has also received job offers. Hence the need to pursue these lines of inquiry."

Miss Lawrence was last seen on March 18 near her home in the Heworth area of York.

She was due to walk the three miles to work on 19 March for a shift beginning at 6am but she never turned up.

Miss Lawrence left her cards, cash and passport behind but her mobile phone - a silver Samsung D900 - and blue Karrimor rucksack in which she carried her chef's whites, have still yet to be located.

Detectives have said they are convinced Miss Lawrence has come to harm and they have focused on her complex relationships with a number of men.

Earlier today, her father, Peter Lawrence, said he did not recognise "the girl I've known for 35 years" from accounts of her complex personal relationships.

Mr Lawrence, who has mounted a relentless campaign to find his daughter, said he was hoping someone would come forward and "put the family out of their misery".

But he told BBC Breakfast: "There are really no leads at all as to how and why Claudia disappeared.

"What I read and what I hear is not the girl that I've known for 35 years.

"She was open about relationships.

"I've met most of the people that I know she's had relationships with.

"But she's 35, she's single.

"But I don't recognise what I read in one Sunday newspaper."

Speaking outside Miss Lawrence's home in Heworth, her father, Peter, 63, from Slingsby, North Yorkshire, said the quest to find her continued.

He said: "It feels most of the time like an eternity. I just feel empty, hollow. We are convinced somebody out there knows where Claudia is. It is a matter of getting that person to give information.

"And if any friend, workmate, neighbour or anybody has something at all, even if they don't think it is important, could they please, please tell the police or Crimestoppers and put us, the family, out of their misery."

Mr Lawrence said he was not frustrated but "angry" by people who refused to acknowledge to the police that they had had a relationship with his daughter.

Asked how the last six months had been, he added: "It's been absolutely devastating and has clearly affected us all. Having an essential part of your life missing for six months is an awful feeling.

"It's always there at some point of the day."

Asked about the latest police investigation in Cyprus, he added: "It's a normal and routine part of their investigation. People knew her out there and clearly they want to interview them."

Miss Lawrence's friend, Jen King, said: "Claudia is a very big part of my life and I lived with her for nearly a year before she went missing. She has just left such a void for such a small girl."

She said a piece of her would forever be missing until she was returned home safe and well.

"I'm just getting on with life but it doesn't get any easier. You just have to keep going."

Briefing reporters in York, Mr Galloway said his picture of Miss Lawrence's background was "comprehensive but incomplete".

He added: "One of my concerns is the fact that we are consistently finding that the people that we approach that we believe have been in a relationship with Claudia are reluctant and less than candid.

"I understand why, on occasions, but sometimes they are less than candid in terms of disclosing their previous relationship with Claudia."

The detective said this inhibited and slowed down the investigation.

He continued: "A gentleman in another part of the country we have been and spoken to on two occasions previously and only on the third occasion, when presented with a whole body of evidence in terms of his contact with and relationship with Claudia, has he finally accepted that, yes, he had met her on holiday and he has subsequently been in contact with her and visited York."

The detective said they had been able to glean details from other people in his group of friends who were in a similar situation.

Speaking about the investigations in Cyprus, Mr Galloway said: "The last text that Claudia received, at 12 minutes past nine on March 18, was from a man that she knows in Cyprus.

"Now we contacted this man very early doors and he has been co-operative with us. However, over the past six months, inquiries have led to a broader knowledge of the fact that she knew different people, several people, on the island of Cyprus, all of whom are British and most of whom work out there or live out there," he said.

Mr Galloway said he had sent a team of officers to the island to speak to these men as a result of this information.

"Some of the people that we have contacted have denied knowing Claudia or being in a relationship with her. I don't believe this to be true.

"One of the people we are seeking to speak to in Cyprus was actually in this country on March 18. That gentleman has been spoken to and has given an account of his movements. However, in order to definitively establish his movements, to a level that is required of a murder investigation, he needs to be spoken to personally."

Mr Galloway said the men involved were "in single figures", were not suspects and would be spoken to on an informal basis.

He said it was evident that Claudia was planning to go out to Cyprus again fairly soon.

The detective said she was seeking to obtain flights to the island but was possibly going to defer travelling as the flights were expensive due to the school holidays.

He said she had travelled to the country "four or five times" in recent years.

"She has been to Cyprus on several occasions and, as is clear from her texts, she was planning to go out there again," the detective said.

Mr Galloway added that it was possible she had received job offers, such as bar work or as a chef.

He said: "She may well be in Cyprus. But of course her passport is in her house.

"Now, if she has gone to Cyprus, she would have to do so by other means. There is nothing at all to suggest this will be the case but one of the key aspects of the case is we still don't know, on March 18 and 19, what happened to Claudia."

The detective said Miss Lawrence was a regular traveller who had been to other Greek islands and Cuba, either with a boyfriend at the time, or with girlfriends.