UK

Soham Murders: How Ian Huntley's Killing Of Holly Wells And Jessica Chapman Shook The Nation

It's 15 years since Huntley's crimes shocked the nation.

25/04/2017 16:35 BST | Updated 26/04/2017 13:14 BST

Schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing in 2002. The 10-year-olds, both ardent Manchester United fans dressed in replica strips, had attended a family BBQ in Soham, Cambridgeshire, but did not return after leaving to buy some sweets.

Two weeks later, their burnt remains were discovered at an air base at Mildenhall in Suffolk.

On Tuesday night, Channel 5 aired a documentary which re-examines the murders and the conviction of killer Ian Huntley. It includes interviews with Huntley’s daughter, Samatha Bryan, and her daughter, Katie Bryan. Emma Fish, Huntley’s ex-girlfriend, also speaks.

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School caretaker Ian Huntley was convicted of murdering Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman 

Who is Ian Huntley?

Then 28, Ian Huntley was able to get a job as a secondary school caretaker, despite social services having records of him being accused of having sex with four underage girls – one was just 13 – and an allegation of indecent assault on a 10-year-old. Police investigated three separate claims by women who said Huntley had raped them and he had also been charged with a burglary – though the case was dropped when it came to court.

In spite of all these complaints, Huntley had no convictions, with only the burglary charge being placed on the police national computer on the orders of a judge. After Huntley’s conviction, then-Home Secretary David Blunkett ordered an urgent inquiry into how the vetting system failed to stop him working with children.  

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Holly Wells (left) and her best friend, Jessica Chapman, went missing after attending a family BBQ 

Who is Maxine Carr?

Maxine Carr was Huntley’s girlfriend and provided a false alibi for him during the investigation into the murders. She served 21 months in prison.

Although not implicated in the murders, the former teaching assistant claimed she had been with him at the time of the killings, which delayed the police investigation. That weekend, Carr had actually been in Grimsby. During the search for the girls, Carr revealed a note from Holly in which the girl said she would miss her after she ceased working at her school. 

Carr was convicted of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

She has since given birth to a child and lives under a new identity. She is one of four former UK prisoners to be given secret identities, along with child killer Mary Bell and James Bulger’s murderers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Maxine Carr with the note she received from Holly Wells after losing her job. Carr was convicted of perverting the course of justice 

What happened?

During the search for the girls, Huntley appeared in several interviews including on Sky News and the BBC, in which he spoke of the community’s shock. He pretended to join the search and offered words of “comfort” to Holly’s father.

Huntley even pretended to weep on camera and claimed to have seen the girls as they walked past his home shortly before they went missing, describing them “as happy as Larry.” He told reporters: “It doesn’t help the fact that I was one of the last people to speak to them, if not the last person to speak to them. I keep re-living that conversation and thinking perhaps something different could have been said, perhaps kept them here a little longer and maybe changed events.”

His lies began to unravel when the final signal from Holly’s phone placed her in Huntley’s home. Forensic evidence linked the spot where the bodies were found to Huntley’s vehicle and a petrol can from Soham Village College, where he worked.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Protesters hold up a banner as Ian Huntley arrived at court to face murder charges in 2002 

When the girls’ red Manchester United shirts were found burned at the college, Huntley eventually admitted that the girls had died in his house after he had invited them in, but insisted that their deaths were accidental.

But the prosecution laid out an alternative version of events - that Huntley lured Holly and Jessica to his house, possibly with sexual motivation, and murdered them when his plan went wrong. 

In court, Huntley said Holly died after falling into his bath, and he killed Jessica by putting his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming.

Where is Ian Huntley now?

Huntley was given two life sentences for the murders of Holly and Jessica. Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Stevenson, speaking outside court in 2003, said Huntley had “refused to speak to police” or accept his guilt.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Holly and Jessica's Manchester United football shirts were found burned in a bin at Soham College, where Huntley worked 

“As a consequence he forced the families through the ordeal of the trial. Even then he could not bring himself to admit what he had done and concocted the most incredible and implausible explanation of their deaths.”

Huntley is currently in HMP Frankland in Durham. In 2010 prisoner Damien Fowkes, 36, attacked Huntley in the healthcare unit of the prison, leaving him with a gaping wound. Fowkes was later sentenced to life in prison for the attempted murder of Huntley and the manslaughter of paedophile and child-killer Colin Hatch at Full Sutton Prison, near York. Fowkes will serve a minimum of 20 years before he is considered for release.

Earlier this year there were unsubstantiated reports Huntley wants to have a sex change in the hope he will be moved to a women’s prison.

Soham Revisited: 15 Years On airs on Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 5