The mother of missing chef Claudia Lawrence talks to PETER BARRON about her hopes for Christmas and the New Year

AS she prepares to enter the second decade of her “living nightmare”, Joan Lawrence’s Christmas wish will be the same as the last ten years. All she wants is news of her missing daughter.

But Joan, now 76, is an amazing woman and, despite the unimaginable daily heartache of not knowing whether Claudia is alive or dead, she always finds time to think of others.

As a member of Malton and Norton Lions in North Yorkshire, she’s been busy baking 70 Christmas cakes to be delivered to housebound elderly people over the festive period.

“It’s a nice thing to do, isn’t it – to bring a bit of Christmas into their homes,” she says.

And Joan’s New Year’s resolution is to find new ways to support others whose loved ones are missing. She aims to explore the possibility of setting up a local support group to complement the work of the Missing People charity.

“There are plenty of support groups for people who are bereaved but I think there’s scope for doing more to help those who are in this terrible limbo of not knowing,” she said. “I’ve got to keep Claudia’s memory alive until I get a knock on the door, telling me one way or another, but I also want to help others.”

Joan was speaking during a pre-Christmas trip to her home town of Darlington, where she has a loyal network of friends and former work colleagues who she says are a great source of comfort.

“The people of Darlington have always been so supportive and caring,” she said.

Claudia, a chef at York University, went missing in March 2009 and, although new leads come and go, there is still no sign of a breakthrough in the investigation.

“All I can do is keep spreading the word in whatever way I can,” said Joan.

A year ago, she talked publicly for the first time about how stress had led to her losing her hair through alopecia.

Typically, she faced the problem head-on by announcing that she was wearing a wig, in the hope that it helps lift the stigma around hair-loss.

And this year, she is proudly showing off a new wig – this one with blonde streaks – that she describes as an early Christmas present to herself.

“What do you think?” she asked over a coffee in Binns café in Darlington town centre. “I was offered pink or peacock blue, but I thought this was daring enough. Everyone tells me it looks great and it gives me a lift for Christmas.”

She also says she’s been contacted by other women who have been inspired by her to be fitted for wigs after losing their hair.

“That makes me feel good, to think that it’s helping someone else,” she said.

Joan will spend Christmas in Derbyshire with her other daughter Ali, and her two grandchildren. The family will attend a Christingle service tomorrow tonight and think of Claudia.

Inevitably, Joan’s thoughts will turn to the “happy” Christmas Day the year before Claudia disappeared when they had lunch together.

Other Christmas memories will also come flooding back. Although, as a toddler, Claudia was an angel in local nativity, she was always a tomboy.

When she was four or five, she had a face like thunder when her main present was a Silver Cross dolls’ pram. “It went down like a lead balloon because she wasn’t girlie at all,” smiled Joan.

Joan learned her lesson. The year after that, she bought animal-lover Claudia a huge palomino pony soft toy. “She was made up with that and kept it right up to when she went missing,” she said.

Joan has also kept the grey pearl necklace Claudia, as a little girl, bought her mum for Christmas. She’d gone with her pocket money to the Corner Cupboard antiques shop, in Malton – owned by Selina Scott’s mum Betty – and she’d let her have it for 50p because that was all she had.

They are the kind of Christmas memories every mother treasures, but that’s all Joan Lawrence has left of Claudia – memories.

There is no present and, in all probability, no future, but she’ll never give up hoping until closure finally comes.

Please think of her this Christmas.