Claudia Lawrence: The Other Victims
by TIM HICKS & CHRIS CLARK
In March 2009, York Chef Claudia Lawrence (pictured above) disappeared while walking from home to work in the early hours of the morning. Her disappearance was later declared to be a murder and North Yorkshire Police commenced a major investigation which was ultimately unsuccessful.
The chronology of the investigation is here:
No-one was convicted of her murder, nor was her body recovered.
The authors believe that the investigation was bungled and they cover this in a series of four articles below:
- Post Mortem on Operation Cabin – Part 1
- Post Mortem on Operation Cabin – Part 2.
- Post Mortem on Operation Essence – Part 1
- Operation Essence – Part 2
The Other Victims
In 1988, five men were wrongly accused of murdering Cardiff prostitute Lynette White. Three of them were convicted and jailed. The real murderer was convicted in 2003, thanks to DNA evidence. Now the former Chief Constable of South Wales Police has apologised over the effect the case had on their lives, not just for the three men that were convicted, but also the two who were wrongly accused but acquitted. He stated:
“I have to recognise that the Cardiff three and the five originally arrested are victims”.
BBC report here.
During the course of the Claudia Lawrence investigation, six men were arrested. Files on four men were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which has declined to charge them with murder.
All six men have all been released from Police bail. None of them were remanded in custody or charged with any offence. Their names were all revealed on the internet and consequently, their reputations have been damaged and their lives ruined.
This article asserts they are victims of the Claudia Lawrence investigation and covers the impact the arrest had on one of these men, and the implications for civil liberties in the UK of the way the investigation into the murder of Claudia Lawrence has been conducted
Five of the arrested men have chosen not to comment on their treatment. Although their names are known to the authors, their privacy has been respected and they have not been named in this article.
Misuse of Police powers of arrest to attack the right to remain silent
There is no legal obligation to assist the police in an investigation. The right to silence is a fundamental civil right, which the police are required to respect.
The investigation focussed on the premise that there were witnesses who had evidence, but were either withholding it or were lying to the police:
By scrutinising in meticulous detail what people told the original enquiry, and then comparing that with other information that was either available at the time or which has only recently come to light, two things have become evident:
- first, that there are people locally who knew Claudia and who have actively sought to keep that a secret – and we know who some of those people are;
- secondly, we know that some people have deliberately lied about a number of issues concerning their association with Claudia.
There are a number of people who are of very particular interest to me. There are those who have yet to admit fully their relationship with Claudia or events in the days leading up to her disappearance. I would make a further appeal for those to come forward now and provide these explanations.
If I reach the point where we believe
- people continue to obstruct this investigation
- or assist or cover up for the person or persons responsible,
they will be arrested. This is a very intrusive process involving interviews and searches which we will do in order to eliminate or implicate them in Claudia’s disappearance.
In summary, Detective Superintendent Malyn states above that “those who have yet to admit fully their relationship with Claudia or events in the days leading up to her disappearance” are obstructing the investigation and assisting/covering up for the murderer(s) by withholding information. This will result in them being arrested. He characterises his statement as an appeal, but it is in fact a threat.
There is no criminal offence of not coming forward to the Police.
Yet this statement implies that if NYP concludes that someone is withholding evidence by maintaining their right to silence, he or she will be arrested and their homes and businesses searched.
It must be a concern that people have been arrested, not because there is evidence they are guilty of a crime, but because they chose to maintain their right to silence. As they are entitled to.
If this is so, then it is an abuse of Police powers.
The authors have used the public comments of one of the men arrested – Mr Paul Harris – to illustrate the impact that being arrested can have on a suspect and his family.
Mr Harris courageously spoke out about the treatment he received from NYP. He owned the Acomb Hotel in York and lives at a separate address. He knew Claudia Lawrence because she drank in his hotel occasionally but has denied ever having had a sexual relationship with her. Mr Harris was questioned about Claudia’s disappearance in 2009. He was completely co-operative and gave his DNA.
On the 13th of May 2014, a 59-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murdering Claudia Lawrence.
Then, on Wednesday the 23rd of July 2014, NYP arrested Mr Harris at his home on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.
He was held for twelve hours at Harrogate Police Station, his wife was interrogated voluntarily. Mr Harris has denied knowing the man arrested in May. According to Mr Harris:
“They didn’t question me at all about Claudia’s disappearance.
The police have told me I was arrested because a woman came forward recently saying something that contradicted what I said in a statement taken at the time Claudia went missing.
I can’t say who it is who came forward, or what was in the statement, but what I can say is that I volunteered to give the police a statement at the time. I gave my DNA, I’ve got nothing to hide.
They searched my wife’s car and found a bracelet in it and asked if my wife wore it. She said no, my girls wear bracelets.”
Within minutes of his arrest, the media turned up at his home.
The Police closed his hotel and stationed a uniformed constable at the carpark entrance, which was full of marked police vehicles. According to this article, NYP issued a statement on Twitter “We are dealing with an ongoing incident at the Acomb Hotel, Kingsway West. Updates will follow when we can.” The statement is misleading; there was a search, not an “incident” and it specifically named Mr Harris’s business instead of just saying the incident was in Kingsway West, further directing media attention to Mr Harris.
A van marked Durham Constabulary Dog Section was parked in the carpark, the obvious implication being that it had transported a sniffer dog to detect a body. This coupled with the sight of Officers entering the premises with a pneumatic drill led the media and local people to conclude they were searching for Claudia’s body. Leading to a media frenzy.
The effect on Mr Harris and his family was devastating:
“My family are devastated. My wife and children were getting texts throughout the night asking if I did murder Claudia.
I’ve got two girls, 15 and 12 year olds, who were asking questions on Wednesday night. They said ‘my friends were saying did you murder Claudia?’ I said I was never accused of that.
The amount of trolls I received on Wednesday night was unreal.
My wife has been in tears all night.”
Mr Harris told 5 News his children were reduced to tears after he was arrested.
NYP has a large Corporate Communications Department. It would have been absolutely well aware that:
- News of an arrest would create a media frenzy.
- The Twitterrelease identifying Mr Harris’s Hotel coupled with the activity there would allow the media and local people to identify that it was being searched for Claudia’s body and that Mr Harris was the person arrested.
- That his family would suffer an immediate wave of attacks of online abuse on social media.
- This would cause his wife and children enormous distress.
- It will have damaged his reputation, business and livelihood.
- His arrest would be distressing and “intrusive” in accordance with Detective Superintendent Malyn’s threat above.
NYP could have quietly arrested Mr Harris at his home and prevented this. Instead, it chose to ignore the effect this would have on him and his family by unleashing an “intrusive” media blitzkrieg on them.
It cannot be right for the Police to arrest someone in a high profile enquiry and immediately reveal to the media his identity and the location of his business and home, with no regard to the effect of this on his family – particularly as there were children involved.
Have Police search powers been abused?
The execution of a search warrant would not usually attract compensation for any damage done by the police. So the threat of search also implicitly carries the threat of damage to the suspect’s property which will not be compensated.
When Mr Harris returned to his pub he commented:
“They have given me no inventory of what was taken, left my pub with holes in the cellar floor and no information about how it’s going to be repaired.
They dug up six inches of concrete, three foot by three foot. This was more than 20 years old, at least. If they can’t determine the difference between new and old concrete, maybe they shouldn’t be detectives.
They’ve gone upstairs where I’ve been renovating rooms and made a mess up there, searching around. I’ve got about 12 doors which have been stripped of paint and they’ve taken two of them away. ‘Why would you take them away? They’ve been stripped so won’t have any DNA on them.”
In the case of the first man arrested, his home had already been searched once, but was searched again when he was arrested. Presumably because either the first search was not performed competently, or to put more pressure on him by performing another “intrusive” search. His mother’s home was also searched, further adding to his distress and the media frenzy.
This all caused further distress to both men, who it transpired were entirely innocent.
Is it possible the searches were done to deliberately inflict expense and distress?
Manipulation of the media
Mr Harris accused NYP of trying:
“to look like they’re doing something”. “There’s so much interest in this story that making arrests makes it look like they’re getting somewhere. I feel I have been made a show pony.
The police have used me, given out information [about me] and have searched my premises simply to show they are moving forward.”
Certainly, the arrests have given the media and the public the impression that the investigation was making progress.
If indeed the need to give an impression of progress to the public played any part in the decision to arrest Mr Harris, then it was an abuse of Police powers and the relationship between the Police and the media.
The Other Suspects
NYP sent files to the CPS, requesting a charging decision on four of the men. In the event the CPS declined to approve charging them.
The position of NYP appears to be that either:
- All four men acting as a gang conspired to murder Claudia Lawrence.
- Working together, all four were able to murder Claudia without leaving any forensic evidence to link them to the crime. They were then all able to resist police interrogations without confessing, implicating another member of the gang, cutting a deal to escape punishment by implicating the others, or giving away any information.
- All of the witnesses who know something about the murder have refused to come forward or have lied to the police.
This seems improbable to the authors. The alternative appears to be that as with the first two arrests, some or all of the four men are innocent of any participation in the murder of Claudia Lawrence and are also victims of the investigation.
The Claudia Lawrence murder has generated enormous public interest. Unquestionably the pressure on NYP to obtain a conviction was enormous.
However, this does not entitle the police to infringe civil liberties or the right to maintain silent, which is a basic civil right.
It must be a concern that NYP may have been:
- Using arrest as a method of punishing people for maintaining their right to silence.
- Using the threat of search and the costs of the associated search as a method of intimidating potential witnesses into giving up their right to silence.
- Arresting people to keep the case in the public eye and presenting the image of an investigation that was making solid progress in the media. When in fact it was not.
Despite the treatment he and his family have received, Mr Harris has displayed commendable dignity.
He remained concerned for Claudia Lawrence’s family and took the opportunity to assist them by including an appeal for information in his media statements. The authors would like to give him the final word:
“It is her family I feel sorry for. They are being fed false hope. Not once did the police ask me about Claudia’s disappearance. I just feel for Claudia’s family, for her poor dad – I’m a dad myself. I’ve always told the police everything I know.”
“I hope anyone out there with information who has not spoken yet will come forward – it’s not too late”.
NYP as provided with an initial draft of this article and asked for a comment, and if they would be offering an apology to Mr Harris. No response was received.
Where next for the Claudia Lawrence investigation?
NYE Appeal for Information
Whenever the authors run an article on a cold case, the NYE always runs an appeal for information, to try to keep the case in the public eye and generate information. The authors will finish with their usual appeal for information:
Christopher Halliwell had a slim athletic build and spoke with a slight Swindon accent. You can see and hear him in the video here.
Christopher Halliwell, pictured next to one of his known victims Miss Sian O’Callaghan.
Miss O’Callaghan was also abducted on the 19th of March and resembles Claudia Lawrence.
Did he offer you a lift in his minicab?
Did you know of Christopher Halliwell’s Father Alan Keith Halliwell who lived in Huddersfield, York, Ampleforth or Oswaldkirk and who previously served in the RAF?
Did you see Christopher Halliwell staying in a bed-and-breakfast or hotel along the A19, in Darlington, Middlesbrough, Scarborough, York or the North York Moors area?
Did you see Christopher Halliwell:
- Fishing at Scarborough?
- Fishing at Whitby?
- Fishing at Scaling Dam?
- Fishing at Sand Hutton Gravel Pits?
- Fishing at York University Lake?
- In York?
- At Ampleforth?
- At Oswaldkirk?
- At the Kilburn White Horse?
- At the Nag’s Head or the Acomb Hotel?
Vicky Glass and Donna Keogh
- In Middlesbrough?
- Fishing at Scaling Dam?
- Fishing along the River Tees?
- Fishing at Scarborough?
- Fishing at Whitby?
- On the North York Moors?
- In Darlington?
- Fishing along the River Tees?