Police investigating the disappearance of York University chef Claudia Lawrence – who went missing in 2009 – have begun a new search in gravel pits eight miles from her home.
Although police believe she was murdered, no body has ever been found.
North Yorkshire Police confirmed on Tuesday an operation has begun to search the gravel pits at Sand Hutton, to the east of York.
Police officers could be seen searching the undergrowth along a public bridleway through the forest. The gravel pits are believed to have been used as fishing ponds since 1969.
Speaking at the scene, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, who took over as senior investigating officer in the case earlier this year, confirmed the search was in relation to Ms Lawrence’s disappearance.
He said: “While I cannot say at this stage how long the search may take, I do anticipate that a number of specialist officers and staff, including underwater search teams, and forensic experts are likely to be at this location for a number of days.
“Whilst I am unable to disclose what brought us to this location, I would like to stress that the searches that you will see in coming days are just one of several active lines of inquiry which are currently being investigated and pursued by North Yorkshire Police Major Investigation team in our efforts to establish what happened to Claudia and to identify any person responsible for causing her harm.
“I can confirm Claudia’s family are aware this activity is taking place.”
Ms Lawrence’s father, Peter, died earlier this year without knowing what happened to his daughter.
Martin Dales, a friend of Mr Lawrence, said: “This is the first really concrete thing that’s happened since Peter died in February so that in itself is quite a milestone.
“Given that situation as well, I’d like to hope that people might be forthcoming with information. One hopes somebody has given some sort of information and it’s not just sending police running up a garden path.
“It’s been quite a long time since the police has said anything new, because of course if you haven’t got the information you haven’t got anything new to say really. I feel a combination of sad and pleased I suppose. Pleased it’s happening, but sad it’s having to happen in the first place.”
Ms Lawrence lived by herself in the Heworth area of York and has not been heard from since 18 March 2009, when she spoke with her parents over the phone and sent a final text to a friend at 8.23pm.
Her father contacted the police two days later after she failed to meet a friend at the Nags Head pub, or turn up to work.
Nine people have been questioned in relation to her disappearance and suspected murder but no charges have ever been brought.
Earlier this year, Mr Fox repeated the force’s belief that several people know, or have suspicions about, what happened to the 35-year-old.
He said some of the information received by the force “appears extremely interesting and sparks a whole new line of investigation”, and he urged anyone providing this information to get back in touch with as much detail as possible.
Nearly a decade after her disappearance, the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – came into force, following decades of campaigning by Mr Lawrence. It allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.