The ongoing story of the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence does not stop at the immediate tragedy for her family and those who knew her. It has implications for feelings of safety in a city that typically boasts lower crime rates than most others in Britain. While I would never normally recommend people to walk home alone in the early hours of the morning, it would hardly have been the greatest of concerns if someone I knew had done so not long ago. But the disappearance of someone within the University environment changes everything. There is inevitably more thought put into personal security and a heightened awareness of the reality of ill-fortune, and perhaps rightfully so.
With the massive publicity of the case, however, there is the off-shoot of further complications – that of dramatic rumour making. For example, witness the texts recently circulating the University that alleged “two more females have gone missing in the last week alone” and that worse still, the police “have a media block in place” to prevent hysteria. While it seems unlikely that a single message will directly harm anyone, rumours do have consequences to consider.
The problem of distraction immediately springs to mind. Presumably these rumours hinder people focusing on spotting anything relevant to the actual case. It doesn’t help for the police to have to follow up and face questioning on something that has not actually happened, when they could be devoting resources to the case at hand. False concern over the ability of the North Yorkshire police raises unfair and premature negative feelings towards them, when they appear to be putting as much effort as they possibly can into solving the mystery, and coping with the already rare and intense attention on them. The nature of the case itself, and the massive media coverage it has received, renders it hard to imagine a situation in which further disappearances would go unreported, either by the press or by the police.
Whether or not people on campus or around York hear this rumour or any others that may spring up in the aftermath, the good faith and fair reaction of those that receive shocking news is being channelled in a wasteful and unyielding direction. It’s unrealistic to think that people faced with further bad news and fear won’t pass it on, but maintaining perspective is crucially useful.
All of this is not to say people shouldn’t take care, or be concerned about safety. There are genuine issues of personal awareness that surround a real ongoing tragedy, but at this point the pitfalls of gossip and speculation must be desperately avoided.