Fury at delayed law for families of the missing

Father of chef Claudia Lawrence accuses MPs of acting too slowly, prolonging relatives' 'torture'

The father of a woman who has been missing for five years has strongly criticised the Government for failing to help traumatised families left in limbo. Peter Lawrence, whose daughter Claudia disappeared after leaving work, hit out at delays in reforming the law on missing people.

Peter Lawrence, speaking before Tuesday's anniversary of Claudia's disappearance, hit out at the Government's failure to bring a Presumption of Death Act into force. Without a death certificate, families have to go to court to prove that their relative has died in order to administer their estate, dissolve a marriage, claim benefits and life insurance, and deal with business affairs such as mortgages. After years of campaigning, MPs passed the new law last summer but it has still not been enacted, meaning families are still faced with lengthy and costly legal battles when it comes to dealing with the finances and interests of missing relatives.

"I'm getting crosser and crosser with the Government on this. We managed to get the Presumption of Death Act on to the statute book last July. I've met dozens and dozens of other people who have family members missing and what everybody goes through is just a torture," said Mr Lawrence. "The Government has acknowledged that there are thousands of families suffering from this lack of legislation," he added.

Former justice minister Helen Grant pledged the law would be enacted by April this year. But this will not now happen until October.

His concerns were echoed by Susannah Drury, director of policy and advocacy at the charity Missing People: "The delays in bringing the Presumption of Death Act into force are disappointing for families who are waiting to be able to resolve their missing loved one's affairs. Imagine the desperation you would feel if someone you love went missing. Then imagine losing the home you shared, watching their bank accounts drained and the life you hope they will return to fall apart."

Campaigners are also calling for relatives to be given powers over the affairs of those who go missing and are not presumed dead, with the Government set to make an announcement about guardianship of missing people before the Easter recess.

The proposals are already months behind schedule and the issue "is not a priority" for the government, according to Mr Lawrence. "If they don't issue the consultation before Easter, it's not going to happen. Any legislation following the consultation is going to get caught up in the general election, which is a disgrace."

Mr Lawrence is plagued by not knowing if his daughter is alive or dead. The 35-year-old chef was last seen alive by colleagues after finishing a shift at the University of York. "It's just a nightmare. Every day is eating into you, wondering what on earth has happened. It doesn't get any better. It gets more difficult as time goes on."

Time is no healer for families of the missing, he says. "Is Claudia safe? Has she been hurt? Is she alive? These things just go through you every day. It's the not knowing that is the problem, because if you do know what has happened to someone then in time you learn to live with it," he added.

Mr Lawrence is convinced that his daughter was abducted "by someone that she at least recognised. I'm fairly sure that Claudia wouldn't willingly get into a stranger's car."

Police are treating her disappearance as suspected murder. In recent months a review of the case has been undertaken by North Yorkshire Police's major crime unit. Late last year police spent several weeks searching her home on the outskirts of York, where forensic tests were carried out. In a BBC Crimewatch appeal to be broadcast on Wednesday, police will reveal new information about her last-known movements and appeal for help in finding two vehicles seen in the area.

Claudia's father appealed for people to come forward: "Somebody out there knows what happened, how on earth they can keep quiet when they see what's happening to the family I just don't know.... It's very difficult to put into words what the family goes through."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are committed to helping people who are put into the awful position of losing a loved one who has gone missing and is presumed dead – which is why we are changing the law to help them to deal with the legal issues that come up. We are working to do this as soon as possible, but we want to ensure any changes work well from the outset and we now expect this to be in October."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?