Three years on from her daughter's disappearance, all Joan Lawrence
wants this weekend is her precious girl back
Hope: Joan Lawrence longs for daughter
Sitting by the phone for hours on end, Joan Lawrence prayed for it to
She’d been through two days of hell since she heard her youngest
daughter Claudia was missing, and she was desperate to hear just a few
words from her: Happy Mother’s Day.
But the call never came. And three years on, Joan faces the same torture
She will spend Sunday with Claudia’s older sister, Ali, and her two
grandsons. But not a minute will pass when Joan doesn’t think about what
happened to Claudia.
Joan says: “It will be an emotional day. It’s about being with family –
and I’ll enjoy being with Ali but it won’t be the same without Claudia.
“I miss her so much and would do anything to hear her say ‘Love you,
"I just hope with all my heart that Claudia comes home – it would make
me the happiest Mum in the world.”
University chef Claudia disappeared three years ago this weekend. She
left her home in York to go to work but never arrived
Claudia as a bridesmaid at her sister Ali's
wedding, aged 25
That evening she failed to turn up for a drink she’d arranged with a
It was then the police were informed. But despite an extensive
investigation and several national appeals, Claudia, who would be 38
now, has never been found.
“A few days earlier we had chatted on the phone,” recalls Joan. “I was
going to see Ali for the weekend and we arranged to celebrate Mothering
Sunday when I got back.
"As we said goodbye, I told Claudia I loved her and she said, ‘Love you
Mum. See you soon’.”
That was the last time Joan spoke to her daughter. Two days later she
was at Ali’s house when her ex-husband, Peter, rang.
Joan recalls: “It was Friday night at about 6.30pm – I was helping to
get my grandsons Luke and Joshua ready for bed. When Ali came off the
phone, she said Claudia had gone missing.
“My heart started racing as I panicked. I knew something was terribly
wrong – it wasn’t like Claudia not to turn up for work.
Sisters: Claudia aged five with Ali aged
"She hated letting people down. Later that night a police officer
called. She promised they were pulling out all the stops to find
Claudia. I prayed she was safe and would ring.
“Mothering Sunday passed in a haze. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I was just
desperate to know where Claudia was.
"Not hearing my daughter’s voice that day was one of the hardest things
I’ve ever been through. I longed for her to ring and say ‘Happy Mother’s
Day’ like she always had, but sadly that call never came.”
The day after Mother’s Day, Joan went home in case Claudia turned up or
rang her home number.
“A massive police investigation was launched,” says Joan, 68, from
Malton, North Yorkshire.
“I wanted to go and walk the streets and search for Claudia myself but
the police advised against it. I was absolutely distraught and couldn’t
“My friends made a rota so I was never alone. The hours slowly turned
into days. I felt empty. If it weren’t for my family, friends and my
faith, I don’t think I would have coped.
“People would say how brave I was but I felt like I was falling to
pieces. I just wanted my little girl home.”
Fun by the Humber: Claudia and Ali in front
of the Bridge
And six months after Claudia disappeared, Joan was dealt a horrendous
The case appeared on the news, only this time not as a missing person
case but as a murder investigation.
Joan still shudders as she remembers: “It was the first I’d heard that
the police were no longer classing Claudia as a missing person.
“Ali and I were devastated. We’d never allowed ourselves, and still
don’t, to think she’s been killed. There was no evidence of that.
“The shock was awful. I felt sick. It was made worse when murder posters
were put up in the towns where we lived.
“I came out of my front door one morning to see Claudia’s beautiful face
stuck to a lamppost. I ripped it down, stunned by how insensitive the
police had been.
“They didn’t even warn me that would happen.
Claudia as a child aged seven with a friend's
“But it didn’t end there. The officer in charge of the case announced on
Crimewatch they were looking into Claudia’s ‘mysterious’ love life,
implying she’d had affairs with married men.
"I was horrified. I knew Claudia wasn’t like that. Claudia had always
confided in me about her love life and I knew she couldn’t have had the
number of boyfriends people were claiming she’d had.
“One of her exes, Patrick, made a statement denying all the rumours and
explained what a lovely girl she was.
“I lost all respect for the police. They were following one line of
enquiry, and didn’t care about the effect it had on us as a family or
“The police had made other mistakes too – the forensics on Claudia’s
house weren’t carried out for six weeks.
"I wasn’t allowed in to see if anything was amiss or if I could spot
anything unusual. We feel so let down.”
There have been a few alleged sightings of Claudia. Most recently, a man
said he thought he’d seen her in a remote part of North West Scotland.
Joan isn’t sure if the police have followed it up.
She even thinks she may have seen her daughter herself. “Last year I was
watching a news item about the January sales,” she says.
Bond: Claudia aged eight with her older sister Ali
They were filming in one of the big department stores in London. I could
have sworn I saw Claudia at a cash till.
"I didn’t call the police – I’d lost so much faith in them, I thought
they would laugh at me.
“The year after Claudia went missing, I went to Ali’s to spend Mothering
Sunday with her. It was so hard.
"If it wasn’t for Luke and Joshua I don’t think we would have
celebrated. Luke often asks ‘Where’s Auntie Claudia? Have they found
her?’ Ali and I always say it will be soon, hopefully.”
Like her mum, Ali misses Claudia desperately. “She had a party to
celebrate her 40th but found it very difficult without her sister,” says
Joan, who has opened up her family album to share these unseen pictures
for the first time.
“The only way I can cope is to hope one day Claudia gets in touch and
lets me know she’s safe.
"In the meantime, I have to concentrate on the happy times we had
together – all our shopping trips, the times Claudia cooked for me and
intimate mother-daughter conversations.
Close: Claudia celebrating mum Joan's 60th
“I treasure the gifts Claudia has bought me over the years, everything
from the pen I keep in my bag to the grey pearl necklace. I often have
conversations with Claudia in my head, telling her what I’ve been up to,
but most of all asking her to come home.
“I made contact with Madeline McCann’s Mum, Kate. As we spoke, one mum
to another, we connected.
“We truly understood what the other one was and still is going through.”
Joan will always treasure the Mother’s Days she did get to spend with
her daughters over the years. “When the girls were little, we always
spent the day together,” she remembers.
“Claudia and Ali would make me a card each and give me a little bunch of
flowers. I still look at the cards.
"The ones from Claudia all read ‘Mum, lots of love, Clauds’ and I long
for the day she can give me another one. She was always such a loving
Still missing: Claudia is very much missed
Joan says she has dedicated her life to being a good mum, adding: “It’s
such a special gift having children.
"I adored watching my girls grow up. They were both such good girls,
neither of them ever caused me any bother.
“But from an early age, Claudia and her sister were quite different. Ali
was the studious one while Claudia was more vocational and would rather
help me with baking. That’s where her love of cooking must come from.
“But even as my daughters got older, we were still very close. We would
speak on the phone and meet up for lunch whenever we could.”
Claudia’s terraced house, where she lived alone, has been left untouched
as Joan can’t bear to take anything away. She wants it to remain as it
was in case Claudia returns. Joan refuses to give up.
She says: “While there is a breath inside me, I will keep trying to find
her. Every night I say a prayer for her. She is in my heart constantly.”