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понедельник, 20 марта 2017 г.

‘Has a jealous love rival hurt our Claudia?’

 

It’s been 13 months since Claudia Lawrence was last seen. Now, her sister Ali Sims, 38, reveals the fears and heartache that haunt their family

At least once a week I have exactly the same dream. I'm sitting with my mum in her house and Dad's there too. Then I hear the front door open.
'I'm home,' calls a familiar voice, before my younger sister bounds into the kitchen, smiling. 'Where have you been?' I ask. 'I've been so worried.' But she just smiles at me and hugs me tightly.
I wake with a smile on my face. But within seconds it's replaced with that all-too-familiar sense of loss and the tears begin to fall again. Because it's been a year since I last saw Claudia, my younger sister and best friend.
She vanished after leaving work on March 18, 2009, since then I've only seen her in my dreams. Her pretty face has been featured on every nationwide news programme and national newspaper as the police try to piece together what has happened to her.
In the time she has been missing, numb disbelief has been replaced with a never-ending sense of dread that my phone will ring one day with news I don't want to hear.
When I look into the eyes of my parents, Peter, 63, and Joan, 66, I see the same fear reflected there.
Claudia's disappearance has devastated all our lives. My dad is exhausted. He combines working full time as a solicitor with travelling around the country making desperate appeals for anyone who has information to come forward. My mum is worn out with worry, and there have been times when she's broken down in my arms.
I struggle to stay strong for my parents when, inside, I'm terrified we'll never see our beloved Claudia again.

Claudia (right) with Ali at their mum's 60th in 2003
Not a day passes that I don't think back to that day last March when life changed with one phone call. Mum was visiting me and we were chatting over a cup of tea. Dad rang, and as soon as I heard his voice I knew something was wrong. He didn't even say hello, just anxiously asked whether I'd spoken to Claudia that day. I told him I hadn't. Nor had Mum.
Dad went quiet. Then he said: 'I think Claudia's missing. She didn't turn up for work yesterday and I've been to her house today. There's no sign of her.'
I tried to stay calm and reassure Dad she was probably visiting friends, but it was so out of character for her. Of course we rang her mobile, but it was dead. She always kept in touch with texts and phone calls, so I knew deep down that something was very wrong. Since then, it's like I've been living two lives. Half of me carries on as normal, gets up, makes breakfast for my two sons, takes them to nursery and school, and continues my work as a research director. The other half is stuck back in March last year, in limbo and unable to believe that life can possibly be carrying on without my sister.

Ali and Claudia (left) as teens with their dad
Growing up with just three years between us, we were inseparable. We had an idyllic childhood, in a detached house in Malton, North Yorkshire. Mum loved having two daughters and wanted us to be proper girls - to do ballet and wear nice dresses. Instead, we were always in mud-splattered jeans halfway up a tree, or riding ponies. We were total tomboys. And, like most sisters, we fought like cat and dog sometimes, but any rows were forgotten as quickly as they started.
Back then I was studious and always had a book in my hand, while Claudia was more fun-loving and mischievous. People naturally gravitated towards her and wanted to be her friend. She was never short of male attention - all the boys in town fancied her.

Claudia at Ali's wedding in 1999
We both loved A-ha and Duran Duran, and we'd talk late into the night about which boys we both liked.
Even after I left for Sheffield University to study geography and Claudia was still at school, we spent our summers together holidaying on the Greek Islands, soaking up the sun and dancing the night away - badly!
What do I miss about her? Everything her wicked sense of humour - she loved jokes and had an infectious giggle. And her smile - it always lit up the room.
The stories that have been written about her as some man-eating seductress just don't tally with the Claudia I know. The woman who is fiercely loyal to her friends and family and besotted with her nephews - my sons Luke, five, and Joshua, 18 months. Now, whenever Luke comes home from school with a funny story, or Joshua does something new, my first instinct is to call Claudia. Then I realise I can't, and that sense of loss hits me again.
Every morning I spritz on my favourite perfume, it is Claudia's favourite too. When I smell it, I'm reminded of her and for a few moments I feel close to her again.
Not knowing what has happened to her is torture, made so much worse by the lurid rumours and headlines since she vanished. Mum has broken down in tears in newsagents, after seeing front-page stories about affairs with married men and her 'tangled and mysterious' love life. People have forgotten that a beautiful young woman - a daughter, a sister, a friend and an aunt - is missing.
A lot of what has been written and said is not true. Yes, she had dated men who were already in relationships, she didn't know until afterwards and by then she was smitten. She always told me and I'd sigh and say: 'Oh Claudia, you do know how to pick them.'
And yes, I do know that she had a 10-year relationship with a man called Paddy - a 46 year old who also had a long-term girlfriend.
I said he'd probably never leave his partner, but Claudia was happy, although I could tell she didn't like being the 'other woman'. But she had fallen for him and was willing to share him with his other life.
When she first went missing I was suspicious of all the men I knew she'd dated. Had one of them hurt her?
I went through all her exes in my head but they've been ruled out by the police. Then I worried that perhaps a jealous girlfriend or wife had discovered her boyfriend or husband had been seeing Claudia. Had they flipped and hurt her? But nothing has been proven.
All I have these days is unanswered questions. And, as the police have investigated Claudia's disappearance, it seems I don't know everything about my little sister.
Just last month, police revealed Claudia had been on a secret date 48 hours before she went missing. If only she'd told me who she was meeting. Maybe this man holds the key to where Claudia is or what has happened to her.

Ali thinks about Claudia every day
Our parents divorced 13 years ago, but we stayed close; losing Claudia has brought us even closer. At first she dominated all our conversations. But as the months dragged by, we began talking about things other than the investigation, even though they seemed so trivial. It's the only way to cope, if we just talked about Claudia we'd go mad.
Mum and Dad come to stay every couple of weeks. It's light relief for them to see their grandchildren, to play with them and to try, for a short time, to forget Claudia's missing.
Every day I relive the last time I saw her, six months before she vanished. We tried to see more of each other but life got in the way. She'd come to stay for the weekend, and we'd gossiped over a few drinks. As always, it wasn't long before we were in fits of giggles over something silly.
When I'm feeling really down, that's how I remember her. In my kitchen, laughing and smiling with Joshua in her arms.
It breaks my heart that Joshua doesn't know her. He was six months old when she disappeared. I show him pictures, but it doesn't register. It's been harder with Luke. At first my husband Danny and I didn't tell him - we wanted to protect him. But when he started school last September we were worried another child might say something. We consulted a child psychologist and explained that Auntie Claudia was missing and the police were looking for her. He asked if we'd put up posters of her, like when people lose their cat. We told him we had and that hopefully someone will see one and we'll find Auntie Claudia.
In reality, we're no closer to knowing what happened. In some ways I'd rather not know. At least this way I can imagine she's still safe.
Last month, the police spent three days searching an area near the University of York, where Claudia worked. Every time the phone rang I was terrified it would be bad news.
They found nothing. And I was so relieved.
I'd rather cling to the hope that she's still alive, than get the answer I dread - that she's been murdered, and the only way I will see or hear her voice again is in my dreams. But until that day comes, I still have hope that maybe my dream will come true, and she'll come home."

Diary of her disappearance

March 18, 2009
Claudia finishes her shift at the University of York's Goodricke College at 2pm. She's caught on CCTV walking towards the Heworth area where she lived. She calls both her parents that evening and seems fine.
March 19, 2009
Claudia fails to turn up for work at 6am. That evening, she doesn't meet friends as planned at her local pub, the Nag's Head.
March 20, 2009
Worried friends call Claudia's father, Peter, as they can't contact her. He alerts the police.
March 26, 2009
At a press conference, police say they believe Claudia has come to harm after meeting someone she knows.
April 16, 2009
Police appeal for help after reports of a man and woman seen arguing near the University of York at 6.10am on the morning Claudia disappeared.
June 2, 2009
Police speak of Claudia's "complex" secret relationships on the BBC's Crimewatch.
June 18, 2009
Police search the Nag's Head pub for a second time, having already searched it on March 28.
September 18, 2009
Police reveal Claudia received a text from a good friend - Steve Sammons, a builder in Cyprus - at 9.12pm on the night she disappeared. He is interviewed but police say he is not a suspect.
September 20, 2009
Claudia's ex-boyfriend Dan Whitehand, 34, an insurance broker, tells a newspaper he fears she met her killer when they holidayed together in Cyprus in 2004. Dan says Claudia was "gullible" and "desperate to be loved".
November 11, 2009
A message, claiming to be from Claudia saying she's "safe and sound" is posted on Facebook. An 18-year-old man is later cautioned for wasting police time.
February 25, 2010
With Claudia's 36th birthday two days away, police appeal on Crimewatch for any "secret friends" to come forward, resulting in more than 30 calls from the public with information.
March 17, 2010
Police reveal Claudia had a date with a man two days before she went missing and it is "critical" they talk to him.
March 23, 2010
Police with dogs scour fields near the university after a tip-off but find nothing.

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