In the 21st century, how does someone vanish on their way to work – even if they wanted to? Detectives were quickly convinced that Claudia Lawrence had been murdered, when the 35-year-old chef disappeared in March 2009. After speaking to her parents one evening, she had gone to sleep, made her bed in the morning, eaten breakfast, brushed her teeth, then left for work as normal. She never got there.
No body has been found, despite a huge investigation that at one stage involved 100 detectives. Every year, on the anniversary of Ms Lawrence’s disappearance, another appeal has been made to the public, or a reconstruction staged. As a news journalist, one becomes hardened to such entreaties, and sometimes doubtful about the prospects of them leading to helpful lines of inquiry. Unlike relatives, we don’t have to put our faith in a police breakthrough.
That sort of pessimism – or realism, perhaps – makes sudden developments years later, like the arrest yesterday of a former colleague of Ms Lawrence on suspicion of her murder, all the more surprising.
An appeal for information in March did result in new leads. Meanwhile, forensic techniques unavailable in 2009 uncovered fingerprints.
The developments have only come about because of the creation of a new major crime unit. Many such cases stay cold, despite detectives’ determination and skill. It is, of course, unfair that some investigations receive considerable public attention, pressuring chief constables to pursue them while other cases languish, but police forces have finite resources.
Most moving were the words of Claudia Lawrence’s mother, Joan, on being told of the arrest. It was a “total shock… I am amazed and I haven't really got my head around it. I’m not getting my hopes up just yet.”