THE mother of Claudia Lawrence has said the latest searches in connection with her daughter’s disappearance and suspected murder have left her in “utter shock”.

Joan Lawrence told reporters she was “very, very churned up” about the developments in the investigation, which has seen police searching gravel pits and an area of woodland just outside York.

Mrs Lawrence said “every single day is a nightmare” since her daughter disappeared from her home in Heworth, York, more than 12 years ago – but she insisted she still has hope.

Police believe Ms Lawrence was murdered, although no body has ever been found.

On Tuesday, detectives confirmed that an operation had begun to search the gravel pits – which are now believed to be used as fishing ponds – at Sand Hutton.

Found to the east of York, the location is around 6.5 miles from Ms Lawrence’s home on Heworth Road.

Mrs Lawrence told BBC Radio York that police informed her about the operation early on Tuesday morning and said she was in “utter shock” about the development.

She said: “I’m very, very churned up, actually. It’s too much to take in.”

The missing chef’s mother continued: “I haven’t had time to really digest it and get myself together with it all, get together the possibilities, wondering where it’s all come from, wonder if it’s some information.

“Why Sand Hutton? I can’t think of any connection with Sand Hutton that Claudia would have.”

Mrs Lawrence added: “At the end of the day, this is very personal and it’s about me and a daughter that I haven’t seen for 12 years, and every single day is a nightmare – this is an added one.”

The mother-of-two said she still has hope, and added: “If you give up hope, you might as well give up altogether.”

Speaking at the scene on Tuesday, where a road and a large area of woodland had been cordoned off and police could be seen searching the undergrowth with sticks, Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox said: “The searches which have commenced here today at Sand Hutton gravel pits are in relation to the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence more than 12 years ago.

“Whilst 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.”

Ms Lawrence was last seen on March 18 2009, and North Yorkshire Police has conducted two investigations and questioned nine people in relation to her disappearance and suspected murder, but no charges have ever been brought.

Speaking after he took over as senior investigating officer in the case earlier this year, Mr Fox repeated the 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.

Ms Lawrence’s father, Peter, died earlier this year without knowing what happened to his daughter.

He had campaigned tirelessly to get answers to the puzzle of her disappearance and spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill – also known as Claudia’s Law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.