REVEALED: Claudia Lawrence ‘Mystery Man’ CCTV enhanced in cold case review

Newly enhanced CCTV footage of unidentified male lurking near the home of missing chef Claudia Lawrence passed to North Yorkshire Police as part of an exclusive 3,700-word analysis of the unsolved case.

by Commentator Cold Case Review Team on 3 August 2020 20:23

Claudia_lawrence_cctv

The disappearance of 35-year-old Chef Claudia Lawrence has baffled detectives, amateur sleuths, and the local community in York for over a decade. This report has been written following an extensive review all available material in the public domain, including interviews with sources on the ground as well as those close to the investigation and familiar with the case.

Whilst we cannot provide definitive answers as to what happened to Claudia, this article places her disappearance in context, examining potential theories and exploring who could be responsible.

As part of this cold case review, we have paid professional forensic enhancement specialists to examine CCTV released by North Yorkshire Police. A file of our enhanced images has been sent to officers working on the cold case investigations team. 

Additionally, we have conducted five telephone interviews with a variety of sources who have followed the case locally. It is important to note during the 11 years since Claudia disappeared, there have been many raids and multiple arrests of local men.

The police even went so far as to submit a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) proposing murder charges against four local men (The Nags Four) from the York area. The submission was rejected on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

At The Commentator, we are great believers in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, so whilst the four men in question frequently draw curiosity and speculation in online forums and Facebook chat groups, we will not be naming them in this article. It would be irresponsible to do so, particularly when the case against them clearly fell short of the threshold for prosecution, let alone conviction.

It should also be noted that at least one of the men has gone on record in the media to denounce the investigation.

A happy young woman

A gregarious, attractive and popular woman, with many friends in the local area, Claudia Lawrence enjoyed socialising after a hard day’s work in The Nags Head pub, which was just a few doors down from her well-appointed terrace home, which she owned, in Heworth, York.

The pub was notable for attracting a clientele of local business owners, many of whom were in their 50s and linked through the construction industry. It is apparent from photos taken before her disappearance, that there was a strong social bond between many of those who visited the Nags Head, despite substantial age differences.

In many of the photographs, Claudia and her friends of all ages can be seen smiling without a care in the world, enjoying a well-deserved drink in the happiest of times.

Claudia was last seen near her home in Heworth, York, on the afternoon of the 18th March 2009, returning from her shift at the University of York’s Goodricke College, where she worked as a chef. It has been reported that Claudia left work at 2.30pm and started walking the three-mile journey home, which she had been doing while her car was unavailable due to repair works.

Her last known contact were daily phone calls to her parents that same evening. During the call, her mother described her as “cheerful and relaxed”.

Indeed, in the conversation between mother and daughter both remarked how they were watching the same property programme on TV.

The final text to leave her phone was sent at 8.23pm and her last inbound received message was at 9.12pm from a bar worker in Cyprus. She never replied to the message and has not been seen or heard from since.

Out of character

Claudia then failed to turn up for her 6am shift at the college the following morning.

That evening, she was due to meet her friend Suzy Cooper in the Nags Head, a pub just a few doors down from her terrace house but also failed to turn up.

The next day, worried friends and family members arrived at her house to discover Claudia missing. Her passport and bank cards were discovered in the house, yet crucially Claudia’s silver Samsung D900 mobile phone and blue and grey Karrimor rucksack in which she carried her chef's whites, were missing.

These were items she would typically take with her on her way to work, according to friends.

Police took the unexplained disappearance seriously and officers quickly descended onto the area, conducting searches and house-to-house enquiries.

The investigation was led by Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway of North Yorkshire Police and focused on the theory that Claudia could have been taken whilst on her way to work. The police released information about two potential sightings.

The first was a woman with a man on the morning of the 19th of March: one by a cyclist on Melrosegate bridge at 5.35am and again 30 minutes later, when a commuter noticed a couple outside the university who looked like they were arguing.

The man was described as skinny, about 5’6 and wearing a dark hoodie. With her house apparently undisturbed and potentially crucial eye-witness sightings, the decision to focus the investigation on a morning abduction was both sound and logical.

The Police also obtained and released grainy CCTV footage of a man walking around area of Claudia’s house, heading into Heworth place.

The man has still not come forward, despite extensive requests from the Police.

Her disappearance was completely out of character to a woman described as a ‘prolific texter’ who called her parents daily and socialised with friends several nights a week.

Something was clearly very wrong.

Complex private life

With leads exhausted and no firm new lines of enquiry, Police Chief Ray Galloway went onto the BBC’s Crimewatch show with a fresh appeal. It was at this point that he uttered the now infamous words, “As the investigation has developed it’s become apparent that some of Claudia’s relationships had an element of complexity and mystery to them. I’m certain that some of those relationships were not known to her family or friends.”

The media did not take long to find sources to corroborate exactly what Detective Galloway was referring to in his comments. It was subsequently revealed that Claudia Lawrence did indeed have a complex and secretive love-life, which included conducting liaisons with married men, many of whom drank in the Nags Head pub.

Over the years, her friends and family members have expressed disgust at the way the story played in the media and rubbished the notion that Claudia was a ‘man-eater’ or homewrecker. Indeed, several sources we have spoken to have reiterated that she could be naïve and unable to handle the attention she received from tipsy, older men who idolised her.

Nevertheless, at least one marriage ended because of an affair discovered with a local scrap metal merchant. Whilst for the purposes of this investigation we will not be delving into the specifics of Claudia’s love life, it is important to note that these affairs did indeed happen, and this was known locally.

For us, this is a legitimate and relevant line of enquiry, regardless of how painful it maybe for her family and friends. After several years and no arrests, the original investigation was wound down to a reactive phase. It was doubtless infuriating and distressing for Claudia’s family to see the investigation get nowhere, despite considerable resources being deployed. 

The Police had exhausted all lines of enquiry, with little or nothing to show for it. Peter and Joan Lawrence still had absolutely no idea what had happened to their daughter.

A fresh review of the case

In 2013 North Yorkshire Police set up a new Major Crime Unit (MCU), which was established specifically to look into kidnaps, rapes and “stalled” cases. Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn was placed in charge of the case review for the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence and was tasked with reviewing all possible lines of enquiry.

Using advanced techniques not previously available, the new police team found additional fingerprints inside Claudia’s house of men who had previously denied ever being there.

They also found a man's DNA on a cigarette end in her car. New analysis of her mobile phone showed cell site activity in the Acomb area of York in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, significantly this was away from her usual drinking spot at the Nags Head. Crucially, investigators were now also able to determine that her phone was deliberately switched off – presumably by her killer - at 12.10pm on Thursday March 19th, 2009.

A decorated, tenacious, and respected police investigator, Detective Superintendent Malyn made a huge effort to secure justice for the Lawrence family.

Indeed, the straight-talking Welshman was awarded with the Queen’s Policing Medal (QPM) in 2019, in recognition of his contribution to the force.

Crucially, Dai Malyn also believed, as his predecessor Ray Galloway had argued, that the person or persons responsible for her disappearance were local to the area and knew Claudia.

Initially, the investigation review team apparently also focused on the theory that Claudia was abducted whilst on her way to work.

Supporting evidence included Claudia’s toothbrush being left on the kitchen counter, and what was described as ‘used breakfast plates’ in the sink. Also supporting this theory was her missing bag, phone, hair straighteners and chef’s whites.

However, having examined the police photograph of Claudia’s kitchen sink, it appears other items were also in there, including a wine glass, pint glass, plates, and cutlery.

To us, this suggests we should be cautious about making assumptions that these were morning items only, and some could well have been from the evening before.

So, who was most likely to have been responsible for having picked Claudia up that morning? Even if they are planning on giving a friend a lift, few people rise for work as early as around 5.20am, unless it was a colleague or someone else who also worked at the university.

Exhaustive enquiries were made, including the arrest of Michael Snelling, a former employee of the university who also drank with Claudia at the Nags Head.

Snelling was understood to have previously given lifts to Claudia before, and was therefore a top priority for the review team. After an extensive search of his vehicle and associated properties, he was eventually released without charge.

Change of focus in the investigation

Following the fruitless focus on Michael Snelling, and an array of sightings that came to nothing, the police, quite correctly, began exploring another possible scenario.

The theory was then seriously explored that Claudia met her fate on the evening rather than the morning.

This was something supported by her last known outbound phone communication taking place at 8.23pm, despite Claudia being described as ‘a prolific texter’ and her failure to reply to the text message received at 9.12pm from a friend in Cyprus.

Astonishingly, the review team then unearthed and released previously unseen CCTV from the evening showing a man carrying a bag on his shoulder lurking by the alleyway behind Claudia’s house and returning in a near-identical fashion to the man seen in previously released CCTV from the morning after she went missing.

Originally, the first Police investigation team had suggested the footage of ‘morning man’ could have been a local individual by the name of Richard Cartwright who was an early riser and known for checking his properties.

But the release of the evening CCTV added weight to the argument that the footage could be that of her potential killer or accomplice.

Certainly, there were similarities in the way both men moved, they also both had their hands in their pockets, but was it the same man? (Left: evening man, Right: morning man)

Evening Man and Morning ManOur enhanced comparison appears to show almost identical mannerisms and similar clothing.

At this point, it became clear that the focus of the investigation had shifted away from colleagues of Claudia, to her inner circle of friends.

It’s also clear that the new police review team wasn’t shy about putting pressure on potential local suspects.

The Police team hired a giant TV display screen and positioned it on the side of the road near Heworth place.

The screen showed the newly released CCTV footage on the evening of Claudia’s disappearance, with a public appeal for local people to identify several men caught on the CCTV cameras.

A fingertip search was conducted in the alley behind Claudia’s house and the Police continued to put the pressure on local persons of interest, conducting fresh interviews, searches, and raids.

Introducing the Nags Four 

After this very public appeal by the Police, things really started moving when a man in his 50s was arrested on the 23rd March 2015 on suspicion of murder. Just a few weeks later, three further suspects were arrested on suspicion of murder. 

Had the release of the CCTV triggered an identification, or compelled witnesses to come forward?

All those arrested were local to the area.

The first man to be arrested worked for York University, the second suspect owned a successful building and construction company, another was a locksmith and the fourth owns a window-installation business. Our research has confirmed that all were well-known to each other and to Claudia.

Two of the four were brothers, one of whom was previously a brother-in-law and school friend to another one of the other suspects. The other brother is in a relationship with one of Claudia's best friends. 

The only suspect not linked by blood or marriage was a regular at the Nags Head pub.

The Police response to the arrests was unusual, in so much that a statement said, “A file of evidence is to be submitted by North Yorkshire Police to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to four men arrested on suspicion of the murder of missing chef Claudia Lawrence. While the CPS considers the case, the four have been released from bail.”

Interestingly, the statement added, “The process of preparing the file will take some time, as will the assessment by the CPS of the case.”

Sweating the suspects

It is clear that during the latter part of the review team’s investigation, a great deal of pressure was applied to the Nags Four and their associates. It has since emerged that one of the four suspects found himself at the centre of an investigation due to an alleged ‘confession’ he made to an unidentified witness.

Condemning the investigation for being transfixed on local people, the suspect told the Sunday Times in 2018, 'The Police said they had a witness that I'd told something to the effect of I killed Claudia. It was a load of rubbish and the person took something I said out of context. “

One wonders quite how such a confession could be taken out of context and it should be noted that whoever the witness was, they felt concerned enough by this ‘confession’ to walk into the police station and give a full signed statement to officers. But if North Yorkshire Police were hoping for one of the Nags Four to crack under pressure, they were wrong.

Despite at least two incidents of police telling the suspects in interviews that one of the them had confessed to murdering Claudia, all denied it. Nearly 12 months after they were first arrested, the Crown Prosecution Service issued the following statement: “We have carefully and thoroughly examined all the evidence presented to us in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”

The statement continued, “We have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove that any of the men had any involvement in Claudia’s disappearance. Therefore, we have advised the police that no further action should be taken.”

The aftermath

Significantly, North Yorkshire Police gave several strongly worded statements in response to the CPS decision.

In one interview on camera a clearly angry Detective Dai Malyn said, “I’m frustrated from the point of view as I know how much effort went into this investigation, and still does. I’m frustrated for the family, about giving them this news at a time like this…. but I respect the CPS decision.” In another interview Malyn said the investigation was “compromised by the reluctance of some, and refusal of others, to co-operate with police enquiries”.

He went further still, “I am sure that there are some people who know, or who have very strong suspicions about, what happened to Claudia. For whatever reason, they have either refused to come forward, or have been economic with the truth. I am left with the inescapable conclusion that this case could still be solved if only people were honest with us.

"The fact that they are not is agonising for Claudia’s family and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

What happened to Claudia?

We have spoken at length with people familiar with the case over the last few months, frustratingly no single version of events has emerged from our research.

However, we have picked some tips and insights up along the way, which will help frame a possible scenario for consideration. The disappearance of Claudia Lawrence is remarkable in that so little evidence has been left behind about what happened to her. We have no crime scene, no body, no real witnesses, grainy CCTV and titbits of information from the police.

Claudia adored her friends and had a close relationship with both her parents, we find it inconceivable that she would run away and start a new life. Moreover, photos from the pub show images of a happy, popular young woman, enjoying life, with many friends in the local area.

Crucially for this investigation, it is important to note that she was also a very attractive woman, who doubtless had many admirers in her social circle and the local area. 

We know from testimony of those who knew her that she could be naive with the attention she received, and we also know that she did have multiple relationships which were not always known to friends and family.

The killer or killers were either very lucky or planned her disappearance extremely well.

They evaded detection and prosecution with remarkable precision. To this day, they have quite literally gotten away with murder.

Who killed Claudia?

We, the public, will probably never know exactly what is sitting in the police files in North Yorkshire HQ, but we would imagine they make fascinating reading. Having spoken to those familiar with the case, officers clearly have more information and evidence than they are letting on.

In summary, based upon the material gathered during this cold case review, we can only theorise some of the following to those looking for an answer. Ignore the salacious conspiracy theories, this case is much clearer cut than it would first appear.

Claudia was an attractive woman who spent many nights of the week drinking and socialising with older men; it is highly likely her killer was known to her. It is also very probable that her killer was motivated by extreme jealousy, or the rage of unrequited love.

Her killer was able to commit the crime and cover it up without being noticed, this suggests to us that he was likely self-employed and therefore able to spend time away from his place of work and free from the watching eye of his superiors. Several of those suspected of being involved were self-employed and ran their own companies.

We also believe she was killed by a single individual and that his crime was then covered up by friends and family members who protected the perpetrator.

North Yorkshire Police have gathered an extensive file of evidence against certain suspects, we have learned that this includes mobile phone data, eyewitness testimonies, satnav activity and an alleged ‘confession’ among other elements.

However, a lack of body or confirmed crime scene have made it hard for officers to press charges. Crucially, key suspects have also been given alibis by partners and loved ones who have given statements saying to the effect of ‘they never left the house, they were with me’ – making the case for prosecution almost impossible, especially for a cautious CPS.

Why was Claudia drinking in the Acomb area in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, had something happened that upset her?

Claudia had recently booked a holiday to Cyprus to see a ‘close male friend’, was it to escape the obsession of a local admirer? Did that admirer explode with rage after hearing of her holiday plans to meet up with an alleged old flame?

Did that admirer then knock on the front door of her house on the evening of the 18th March 2009 and get no answer?

Did he then walk around the back of the house to the alleyway to see if the light was on in her room, trying her back gate, then walking back and trying the front door again?

If he is the guilty party, then blundering around in front of the CCTV cameras was sloppy in contrast with the swift cover-up that has left police struggling to build a clear case. In the footage, he was carrying a rucksack and walking purposefully, had he just finished work or was he hoping to stay over?

Did he pause for a moment to avoid being seen by a friend who crossed the road? If he is innocent, then why has he not come forward to police?

We know Claudia’s outbound phone activity ceased just over an hour after this footage was captured, it is our belief that this individual entered the house, either through a spare key or eventually coaxed Claudia to answer her door.

A confrontation escalated out of control, perhaps even accidentally, and he then removed her via the rear of the property under the cover of darkness, which would be the best time to commit such as crime without detection.

This rushed scenario would explain why the same man is seen once again lurking around the house at 5am in the next morning. Was he collecting carelessly forgotten items such as her phone or bag under his coat and hiding it, perhaps in one of the neighbouring properties in Heworth place until it could be disposed of later that day? Did he return to clean up the crime scene? Did he call friends or family members to help the cover up?

It is likely the Police have tell-tale phone records of activity such as the ‘chatter’ of texts and calls between those thought to be involved that evening and the next day. The police have also confirmed that several men have left fingerprints inside Claudia's house, despite denying they have ever been there. 

The CCTV man was most certainly local to the area and his frequency on camera and knowledge of the area behind Claudia’s house suggests he lived either in Heworth place or one of the surrounding streets and had visited there before.

We believe he has not come forward, because he is guilty and is being protected by a false witness statement, giving him an apparently secure alibi.

In conclusion, it is crystal clear that those close to Claudia Lawrence have been telling lies to police for a very long time and that the identity of the ‘mystery man’ on CCTV is key to the investigation. 

She was a prolific texter, who regularly sent messages to friends, yet outbound communication from her phone ceased that evening at 8.23pm. 

Moreover, a suspicious individual was captured on CCTV outside her house around one hour before her last known communication.

In response to our submission of enhanced images, North Yorkshire Police emphasised that they would like the man in question to come forward so he can be eliminated from their enquiries. 

We now have a clear outline and profile image of this 'mystery man' - we can see he has a dark receding hairline and we believe local people can identify him from this image. 

Those who know the identity of this man should come forward and do the right thing.

Contact North Yorkshire Police here

Reporting by Steven George-Hilley, Patrick Sullivan and Chris Dias for The Commentator Cold Case Investigations Team 

 

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