Suzy Lamplugh 'declared dead' by her family: Seven years ago today an estate agent vanished after taking 'Mr Kipper' to view a house. Now her family has let go of any hope she is alive

SEVEN years ago today there was every indication that Susannah Lamplugh, the missing estate agent, would return home. There was a half-made dress on the sewing machine in her flat; she had left her lipstick and a comb in the office.

The phone call from Suzy's boss saying: 'I don't want to worry you too much . . . Suzy has not returned', shocked Diana Lamplugh but she carried on with the housework, hoping her daughter would call.

She never did. Today Suzy is officially declared dead. Her father signed the legal papers necessary for a presumption of death allowed after a person has been missing for seven years. 'It marks a finality,' he said. 'It releases us. It allows us to think of Suzy as dead. We loved her very much, but we need to rebuild our lives.'

Suzy's face filled newspapers in the weeks after her disappearance. She was the laughing 25-year-old with the flicked- back hair. She was the estate agent who met a 'Mr Kipper', routinely showed him a house and was last seen driving her car with a man in the front seat.

The rest was speculation. The police were vigilant in their investigations but the inquiry provided no answers. Every taxi driver had a theory: she is under Chelsea Bridge was one rumour; she deliberately went missing was another. But even the more persuasive explanations were found to have flaws.

Her family believe she is dead. 'We knew fairly soon that we would not see her again. It felt awfully final,' Mrs Lamplugh said yesterday. 'I knew Suzy could not have borne the desperation of being locked up as Stephanie Slater was able to. And she had no reason to go missing.'

Mrs Lamplugh believes her daughter was murdered by John Cannan, the convicted sex killer. 'But the evidence is circumstantial rather than forensic,' she said. Cannan has always denied the murder.

Since her daughter's abduction, Mrs Lamplugh has worked tirelessly to keep Suzy's name alive and to campaign for the safety of other young women.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is run from home - the same house in East Sheen, south- west London. Suzy's bedroom is now an office. Her Guide uniform still hangs on the bedroom door. By the front door is a stained glass memorial inscribed: 'Suzy Lamplugh - although absent her light still shines.'

Mr and Mrs Lamplugh's vision of their daughter has provoked controversy. After the disappearance they presented a picture of their daughter as a 'super girl', confident, go- ahead, extrovert and loyal to her boyfriend.

In an open letter addressed to 'My dearest darling Suzy', Mrs Lamplugh described clearing out her daughter's empty flat. 'I looked at your pictures, your photos, your macrame, your dresses, your birthday cards . . . it all looked so happy, so successful.'

But in his book, The Suzy Lamplugh Story, Andrew Stephen unfolded another side: the insecure Suzy, the sexually unfulfilled Suzy, the lonely Suzy dreaming of a love she could reciprocate.

The Lamplugh's response was bitter: 'That book made us lose all the nice things we could remember about our daughter. We had to rebuild our memories.' They talk about her as much as ever - imaginary conversations with her about the trust set up in her name; about her 'wonderful laugh' and the rules she liked friends and family to follow.

Now her mother takes pleasure wearing ear-rings Suzy would have disapproved of. 'I have learnt there is no absolute rightness,' she said.

(Photograph omitted)

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