TWO Ryedale families have welcomed backing by the Lords for new legislation making it easier for people to settle the affairs of a relative who is missing, presumed dead.

Peers gave an unopposed third reading to the Presumption of Death Bill, which has already cleared the Commons.

Peter Lawrence, the father of missing Malton woman Claudia Lawrence, who has not been seen since she disappeared on March 18, 2009, has been campaigning for legal changes to help the relatives of people who have gone missing.

Mr Lawrence’s spokesman, Martin Dales, said he welcomed the rule change, which brought England and Wales into line with the situation already existing in Scotland.

“He is absolutely delighted,” said Mr Dales.

“We hope this will become law by Easter. This is relatively straightforward and is only part of what he has been campaigning for.”

Mr Dales said the next change they were seeking was for people to be able to obtain guardianship arrangements within months of someone going missing.

He said the Government had asked legal experts to examine whether suitable legislation could be drafted.

The new bill will enable someone to apply for a High Court declaration stating the relative is deemed dead after being missing for seven years.

Wendy Simm, from Kirkbymoorside, whose husband Gordon went missing while walking in Spain last July, also welcomed the news.

“Like Peter Lawrence, I am pleased that the bill, when it becomes law, will now hopefully allow myself and others to apply to the High Court for Presumption of Death Certificate,” she said.

“My husband Gordon Simm disappeared while doing a mountain walk. His body to date has not been found and we, his family, believe he has lost his life.”

“While I do agree there has to be a reasonable time lapse, I still believe that seven years is a long time to wait to deal with the affairs of a missing person.

“This can place them in an intolerable position, often financially, as access to that person’s finances, pensions, etc, are frozen until a death certificate can be obtained or a presumption of death certificate.”

Mrs Simm said Peter has made great headway in fighting to get this bill passed.

“I personally thank him for all his efforts, turning his own grief into something positive is a wonderful thing to do,” she said.

“Not knowing what happened to our loved ones is the worst thing. Perhaps we will never know. Having a change in the law would help us to deal with their estate and gain some kind of closure.”

Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer said families and friends suffered “horrendous trauma” when someone went missing.

Without a body, there could be no death certificate, as the person was legally presumed to be still alive, making it difficult to resolve financial and other issues.

Accepting loss was hard enough without the added stress of a “legal hunt-the-thimble” with multiple applications and processes to resolve legal issues under current procedures.

Baroness Kramer said the bill, which applies to England and Wales, was likely to lead to the issuing of about 30 to 40 presumption of death certificates a year.

Father speaks of “dreadful” ordeal

PETER Lawrence has spoken of how his Christian faith has helped him to endure the “dreadful” ordeal he has endured since his daughter Claudia’s disappearance.

Mr Lawrence said his Anglican faith had been “sorely tested” by his daughter’s disappearance nearly four years ago but without it, he would have found it “very difficult” to continue.

The 66-year-old solicitor, who is based in York, was speaking as he helped launch the book Gone, by Neil Root, on the disappearance of his daughter and his search for the truth about what has happened to her.

Mr Lawrence and Claudia’s friend, Suzy Cooper, appeared on BBC Breakfast on Monday to discuss the book and on This Morning yesterday.

“I think without my faith it would have been very difficult to keep going; I regard prayer as not being something where you drop on your knees and put your hands together, you can pray all the time, you pray wherever you are, you don’t need to be in church,” he said.

The book has been launched close to the fourth anniversary of the chef’s disappearance.

She was last seen on March 18, 2009, near her home in Heworth, York, and the last anyone heard from her was when she sent a text message to a friend that evening.