In August 2002, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman disappeared in their hometown of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Soon, the twisted caretaker at their school was arrested.
A crime that shocked the nation…
People tuned in to the emotional press conferences held by the families of missing girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both 10. They tearfully begged for their daughters’ safe return. David Beckham, who the girls idolised, even made an appeal too…
On 4 August 2002, best friends Holly and Jessica had been at a family barbeque at Holly’s house. They’d posed for a picture, smiling away in matching Manchester United shirts, dark trousers and trainers.
Later, at 8.30pm, Holly’s parents went to check on the girls, thinking they were playing upstairs. But they were missing.
The whole community came forward to support the families in their efforts to find their girls. Ian Huntley – caretaker at St Andrews Primary School in Soham, Cambridgeshire, Holly and Jessica attended – approached Holly’s father and expressed his sympathies. He told police and journalists he’d seen the girls the day they’d disappeared. Said they’d approached his house giggly and happy, then walked away again.
But, on 17 August 2002, two naked, decomposing bodies were discovered in a muddy ditch near an airfield in Lakenheath, Suffolk. The partially burned corpses, their limbs intertwined, were identified as Holly and Jessica.
What had happened to the young, innocent best friends?
Lies, lies, lies
Huntley was quickly arrested, along with his girlfriend Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the girls’ school.
Maxine gave Huntley an alibi, saying she’d been with him when the girls went missing. But further investigation revealed she’d been lying. She was, in fact, in Grimsby visiting relatives that day. The following year, Ian Huntley, 28, stood trial at the Old Bailey.
He denied murder. Huntley testified he was outside his house cleaning his dog when the girls came up the road. That he invited the girls inside because Holly had a nosebleed, then led them to bathroom. There, Huntley said he’d given Holly tissues to stem the bleeding.
He claimed Jessica needed to toilet so he’d taken Holly to his bedroom, where a drop of blood had dripped onto his duvet. Afterwards, he took Holly back into the bathroom, where she’d sat on the edge of the bath and ‘accidentally’ fallen into the bathwater he’d run for his dog, and drowned.
‘I just froze,’ he said in court.
Huntley testified Jessica started screaming, ‘You pushed her.’
So he’d put one hand over her mouth to shut her up, the other around her neck, suffocating Jessica.
‘You didn’t give her the slightest chance, did you?’ the prosecution asked.
‘No,’ Huntley replied.
He then carried their lifeless bodies to the boot of his car, bought petrol and bin liners before disposing of them. After placing them in the ditch he doused the young girls with petrol, lit a match and walked away.
Then he lied to the police, journalists and the victims’ families.
Huntley was convicted of murder and received a double life sentence. At sentencing, the judge told Huntley, ‘You murdered them both. You are the one person who knows how you murdered them, you are the one person who knows why. There are few worse crimes than your murder of those girls.’
His then girlfriend, Maxine Carr, was convicted of perverting the course of justice for providing a false alibi, and sentenced to three and a half years.
In prison, Huntley tried, unsuccessfully, to take his own life three times. He was attacked by various inmates too.
Whilst Huntley insisted there was no sexual interference or motive, it transpired he’d previously been investigated for nine sex offences. He’d been accused of rape four times, once of assaulting an 11-year-old girl and four times of having sex with underage girls. The police and authorities had failed to explore these properly before he was appointed a caretaker at Holly and Jessica’s school.
Following Huntley’s conviction, the government launched the independent Bichard Inquiry into the way police forces shared intelligence. Perhaps some good could come out of such a tragedy…
The chief constable of Humberside Police admitted the force made several mistakes before clearing Huntley to work with children in Soham. Huntley was reported to them eight times by alleged victims.
In the name of Holly & Jessica
In 2006, The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act was introduced to provide a framework for protecting children and vulnerable adults, and for betting and barring unsuitable individuals from working with vulnerable people. That wasn’t all.
In 2011, The Police National Database (PND) was launched. It combined intelligence from all 43 police forces in England and Wales, and aimed to ensure convicts and suspects couldn’t hide across county borders. Consultant forensic psychologist Dr Ian Stephens told Press the database would help criminal profilers.
‘Huntley’s past would fit into the profile of a killer who commits crimes which gradually escalate in terms of seriousness. The problem was his past was not known by detectives. With better sharing of information it will hopefully become easier for investigators to identify individuals who fit psychological profiles.’
As Jessica’s parents’ said at the time, ‘We hope the database’s use will mean other families don’t suffer the same loss and heartbreak as we did.’