SCHOOLCHILDREN sang carols and more than 50 candles shone a message of hope and support in a York church today, for the families of missing people.

Suzy Cooper, friend of missing York chef Claudia Lawrence, told the congregation at the Missing People Northern Carol Service at St Chad’s, Campleshon Road, of the life-changing effect when someone close to you disappears without an explanation.

“I have experienced emotions I never knew existed. I have become a person I do not recognise”, she said.

And she spoke of her great gratitude for the support from the Missing People charity. The charity has run a similar service in London for some years, but now wants to run an annual carol service for northern families of missing people as well to offer comfort and support at what can be a very difficult time of year for them.

Claudia’s father Peter Lawrence, who played an important role in organising the service, gave a reading, as did Neil Root, author of a book about Claudia, Martin Dales, Peter Lawrence’s friend and spokesman, Harry Gration of BBC Look North, Adam Tomlinson of BBC Radio York and the Lord Mayor of York, Coun Keith Hyman.

The choir of Headlands Primary School, Haxby, sang Christmas songs while families, supporters, charity volunteers, members of St Chad’s congregation and others lit candles of support.

The choir also led the congregational carols and their headteacher Chris Pearce read the first reading. Prayers were led by Canon Simon Stanley of St Chad’s.

The readings included writings and contemplations linked to missing people as well as traditional Bible Christmas readings.

Missing People offers a 24-hour service of confidential support, help and advice for families of missing people, as well as operating a UK wide network of people, businesses and media willing to join the search for the 250,000 people who go missing each year. It also campaigns for greater recognition of the difficulties faced by the families of missing people.