The Presumption of Murder: Suzy Lamplugh and Claudia Lawrence
When is a missing person considered permanently missing? The lack of a body causes havoc with justice systems everywhere in the world.
It is difficult enough to prove what happened to someone to cause their death when you have a body to prove that they are dead. What if there is no body? This is not as uncommon as I thought, it exacerbates the suffering of the friends and family, and it causes problems for law enforcement because missing persons are not given the same resources as murder victims.
Of the cases I focus on most closely, there are two which are officially missing persons: Suzy Lamplugh and Claudia Lawrence.
A glance at Wikipedia will show you that Suzy Lamplugh died on 27th July 1993. This is a curious date, because it was 28th July 1986 that she was last seen alive. Why did it take precisely seven years for her death to be recognised? At the moment, that is the way the British law works in the case of a missing person: seven years is the earliest date on which someone can be declared legally dead, and only if the family go through the legal process to achieve that status for their relative.
There is a conundrum at the heart of any case of a missing adult, as distinct from a child. If someone reports a child missing, the police and other services fire up almost immediately because they know that every minute counts. But a missing adult? How do we begin to define missing? When did you last speak to your parents or grandparents? How do they know whether you are missing or just carrying on your life? How long would it be before someone you know called the police? And how embarrassing would it be if it turned out you had gone on holiday without telling anyone?
The single most striking aspect of the Suzy Lamplugh disappearance is how quickly the police realised something unusual had happened. They became involved within just a few hours of her manager, Mark Gurdon, raising the alarm. If only someone at Claudia Lawrence’s work had acted so quickly, she might have been found. It was over 24 hours before Claudia’s family raised the alarm.