On the tenth anniversary of her daughter Claudia’s disappearance, Joan Lawrence talks PETER BARRON

TONIGHT, just as she has every day for the past ten years, Joan Lawrence will light a candle and place it in the hearth of her fireplace at home.

Not once during that decade of heartache has Joan given up hope of seeing her daughter, Claudia, again. Not once has she let the light go out.

It is ten years today since Claudia, a chef at York University, went missing from her home in the city, and the agony for her family goes on.

“We found ourselves in a black hole,” says Joan. “A light went out in our lives and it’s never come back on, so I have to keep a candle burning.”

March 18, 2019, is a milestone Joan has been dreading, even though she knows it will generate fresh publicity, such as her appearance on national television today when she talks to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain.

“Every morning, I come downstairs, open the curtains, and wonder where she is,” she says. “If it’s cold, I worry about whether she’s got a warm coat on because she hated the cold. God, I hope it's not snowing.”

The Northern Echo: Claudia Lawrence, missing since March 18

It’s hard enough for any parent to lose a child but imagine what it must be like to live every day, not knowing what’s happened; never to have closure.

Joan, born and brought up in Darlington, but now living in Malton, North Yorkshire, clasps her hands tightly as she recalls the events of ten years ago. Everything appeared normal when she went to the annual general meeting of the Pickering Ladies Luncheon Club on Thursday, March 19. The next day, she drove to Derbyshire to stay with her other daughter, Ali, for the weekend of Mothering Sunday.

That evening, Joan’s former husband, Peter, telephoned Ali to break the news that Claudia, then 35, had disappeared. A police investigation was underway. The nightmare was just beginning.

“I can’t believe it’s ten years – where has all that time gone?” asks Joan. “In some ways, it feels like a long time, but then it seems like it’s gone in a flash.”

Joan smiles fondly as she remembers Claudia as a little girl. She was born in Westow Croft Maternity Home, just outside Malton, when Ali was three. Claudia was a real tomboy, with a love of animals.

“When you have kids, they’re the most important thing in your life and you love them with all your heart,” she says. “You worry most about them being safe, and we were always drumming it into them never to get into cars with strangers. Then, this happens ­– I honestly don’t know how I’ve come through it with my sanity.”

All Joan can do is cling on to the hope that her daughter is still alive somewhere, and do everything she can to keep her memory alive. During a search of Claudia’s house, a pile of birthday cards was found in a box in her bedroom. Many were from her mum, and Joan now keeps them at her home in North Yorkshire. On Claudia’s birthday each year, Joan takes out the cards that mean the most, and displays them on her mantlepiece. Nearby, on a window sill, there is always a fresh bunch of purple tulips – her daughter’s favourite flower.

The Northern Echo:

Claudia would have been 45 on February 27, and, on that day, Joan became understandably emotional when she read the fading message on one of the cards she’d chosen from the box: “You have always been very special and with each birthday that passes you’re loved more and more. Lots of love from Mum.”

As Joan looks at another card she’d sent to Claudia, she reads the words out loud: “It has always meant so much to have a wonderful daughter like you.”

Then she adds: “A wonderful daughter. That’s exactly what she was…is.”

She is a mother caught in a terrible limbo of not knowing if her daughter is dead or alive; whether to talk about her in the past or the present.

“It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest,” she admits. “Not knowing if we’ll see her again.”

And yet, what is so remarkable about Joan is her concern for how others are feeling. She is in touch with several other mothers who have lost children in high-profile cases, sharing her experiences, and offering words of comfort.

Karen Edwards, the Swindon mother of 20-year-old Becky Godden-Edwards, who was abducted and strangled to death by taxi driver Christopher Halliwell in 2003, has just telephoned to wish Joan well.

Joan has also inspired others by talking publicly about how she has started wearing a wig after losing her hair through stress. “I’ve just had a message from someone in Staffordshire who has cancer and has lost her hair, and she’s now going to get a wig too. It makes me feel better to think I might be helping someone through a difficult time,” says Joan.

She is also grateful for the “masses of support” she’s received, from friends and strangers. “I’m just very, very fortunate in so many ways,” she says. “I always have to remember that.”

One of her greatest sources of strength has been The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who will lead a special service for Claudia at St Mary’s Priory, in Old Malton, on March 24.

“He’s told me that he prays for her every day wherever he is in the world?” she says.

Joan says a daily prayer too, and today, on the tenth anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, she will pray especially hard that someone, somewhere will provide an answer.

“I’ve never given up hope and I never will – not until there’s a definite conclusion,” she says. “I can buy her tulips on her birthday, but I can’t visit her grave because it’s not there…but it might be…somewhere.”

Dead or alive. Past or present. A terrible limbo.