‘My Friend Claudia Wasn’t Treated As A Missing Person But As A Woman Of Loose Morals’

It’s 10 years since chef Claudia Lawrence, 35, disappeared. The case remains perplexing, not least because police recently revealed her phone was active near her home for four hours after she vanished. Here, Claudia’s best friend Suzy Cooper reveals the agony of the last decade.

Claudia Lawrence

by as told to Polly Dunbar |

In my living room, there’s a photo of Claudia and me together that I love. It captures us on one of our frequent nights out in York, looking confident and carefree as we drank wine. We shared a similar sense of humour and were always laughing.

If you’d told me when she first went missing that, a decade on, I still wouldn’t know what happened to her, I wouldn’t have believed it. At first, I expected her to be found within days. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and now, we’re 10 years on. I still think about her every day. I look at that photo and wonder: where are you Claudia?

When she vanished on 18 March 2009, we’d known each other for over two years. We’d met in our local pub and spent evenings together there and at her terraced house as often as four times a week. She was caring, kind and shy, despite seeming outgoing; a girls’ girl who loved romcoms and shopping.

On the evening of the 18th, a Wednesday, she arrived home from her job as a chef at York University’s Goodricke College, called her mum, and texted me to arrange drinks for the next night. When it came, I settled down in the pub with a glass of wine and texted her to say I’d arrived, but she never appeared. The next morning, when I tried calling her, I got a message saying her phone was out of service, so I called her dad, Peter. I was worried that she might have fallen down the stairs or been hurt in some way.

Claudia Lawrence and Suzy
Suzy treasures this photo of a night out with ‘kind and caring’ friend Claudia ©Shutterstock

When Peter let himself into her house, he noticed her phone, chef’s whites and blue rucksack were missing. She’d left her bank cards and passport. He called the police and a massive search began. At first, it was surreal; the sort of thing that happens to other people, not you. Although I was talking to the police and the media, I thought she would turn up at any moment.

Gradually, as time passed, the horrifying thought sank in that she might have been abducted after leaving home for work on the Thursday morning. She left at 5.15am to walk there in the dark, because she liked the exercise. The police focused on her closest group of friends, but none of us knew anything that could help.

When Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway told BBC’s Crimewatch that Claudia had ‘complex and mysterious’ relationships, which weren’t known to her family and friends, I was stunned. She was single and attractive and she did date, but she certainly wasn’t a man-eater. She wasn’t internet dating, as far as I knew – and we were so close that I’m sure I would have known. She wasn’t on social media and didn’t even have a computer. The comment planted doubt in my mind, though, making me think, did I really know her?

Looking back, it also seemed to be a turning point in the public perception of her. It appeared to me that, from that moment on, she wasn’t seen as a missing person, but as a woman of loose morals. The tabloids leapt on the idea and, as a result, some of the public started to dislike her rather than have empathy with her. She was torn to shreds as if she was a reality TV contestant rather than a victim and, as her friend, it was awful to watch. It was so misogynistic. To this day, there are still people on social media saying she deserved whatever happened to her.

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Since then, and despite a £1.5m police investigation, there have been numerous theories but very little hard evidence. Nine people have been arrested or interviewed under caution, but all released due to insufficient evidence. In 2013, her case was reopened as a cold case review, which we hoped might finally bring some answers, but it didn’t. I can’t help wondering what the original investigation might have missed.

We always knew her mobile phone had been switched off at around midday on the Thursday, but the recent disclosure by police that it connected to a mast next to York University when her manager called and left a voicemail makes it more likely she wasn’t taken far – and makes the police believe she was attacked by someone she knew. I’d like to think it might lead to an answer.

Not knowing what happened to Claudia has been torture. It’s a very cruel kind of grief, one that never ends, because I can’t reach the peace that comes with acceptance. I haven’t been able to stop myself going over and over every aspect of it, thinking of all the different horrible scenarios. For a long time I blamed myself, wondering if there was something I missed.

Mine is one of the lives that has been destroyed in a knock-on effect of this crime. In the aftermath, I found it very difficult to trust people, particularly after seeing nasty comments on social media suggesting I wasn’t helping, so I withdrew. I don’t really socialise any more and I’m afraid of letting people in out of fear that I’ll lose them.

In March, I joined Claudia’s family in York Minster to light 10 candles to mark the 10 years she’s been gone. I still miss
her all the time and it was very emotional, knowing we’re no further forward. The police have appealed for information
from the public. If anybody does know something, I’d beg them to share it. It would mean so much to finally learn the truth.

If you have any information, call North Yorkshire Police on 0845 6060247 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

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