York & North Yorkshire

Parliamentary law review for relatives of missing

Claudia Lawrence
Image caption Claudia Lawrence went missing in March 2009

The father of missing York chef Claudia Lawrence has asked MPs for more legal rights for families of missing people.

Peter Lawrence, 63, was speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults.

He said families currently have no way to deal with a missing person's property and finances.

Group chairwoman MP Anne Coffey said a Parliamentary inquiry will be held into potential changes to legislation.

The meeting in the House of Commons was attended by MPs as well as representatives of the police, banking and legal sectors.

Families 'in limbo'

Labour MP for Stockport Mrs Coffey said: "Mr Lawrence gave a very good account of what happens to families - apart from the emotional trauma of a relative going missing, they face a lot of legal and practical problems.

"For example, his daughter had a mortgage and it was difficult to get the mortgage company and bank to engage with him, the same with car insurance.

"We recognise we need to do something to support families in these situations."

A Parliamentary inquiry will take place over the next couple of months, Ms Coffey said, with police and banking experts called to make recommendations about how the current obstacles families face can be overcome.

One option is to introduce a "guardian order" so a relative can take over a missing person's finances.

Claudia disappeared nearly two years ago and a vigil was held on Sunday by the Archbishop of York to mark her 37th birthday.

Mr Lawrence said families are currently left "in limbo", unable to prove a person was dead or alive.

'Presumption of death'

Another option could be the introduction of a "presumption of death act" in England and Wales, which would allow families to resolve the financial affairs of a missing person.

Currently a person must be missing for at least seven years to be declared presumed dead.

The law change would allow anyone with an interest in a missing person's affairs to apply to the high court for them to be presumed dead.

There would be no minimum time before they could apply, as long as they could show evidence to suggest the person had died.

Scotland already has a presumption of death act which was introduced in the 1970s.

Martin Houghton-Brown, chief executive of the charity Missing People, said: "If your house is burgled you are automatically offered emotional, practical and legal support.

"If your child goes missing you may get nothing."

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