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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 12:08 GMT
How Huntley's charade crumbled
By Christine Jeavans
BBC News Online

For two long weeks in August 2002, Britain's attention was focused on a small Cambridgeshire village and the hunt for two young friends who had disappeared.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
Witnesses spotted the friends in their distinctive football shirts
While the rest of Soham searched for Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman hoping to find them alive, one man knew the 10-year-olds were already dead, their bodies so well hidden they might never be found.

Ian Huntley had tried to sanitise everything that might link him to the crime - even his initial story that he had seen the girls skip away "happy as Larry" sounded squeaky clean.

But gradually police amassed evidence, some as small as a grain of pollen, that told a more murky tale.

When slotted together it was enough to convict Huntley of the murders.

Trail of evidence

Witnesses who had seen the girls, so noticeable in their bright red Manchester United tops, could pinpoint the exact time they vanished on Sunday 4 August.

The final signal from Jessica's mobile phone put her - or at least her handset - in Huntley's house at 1846 BST the same evening.

Forensic evidence linked the remote spot in Lakenheath where the bodies were found to Huntley's car, shoes and the petrol can from Soham Village College where he worked as a caretaker.

Boot of Ian Huntley's car

And when the girls' red shirts were discovered cut and charred in a bin at the college, fibres from the clothes proved an exact match with those found on Huntley's clothing and in his home.

In the face of such strong evidence, Huntley did not deny he had been present when Holly and Jessica died in his home.

He admitted dumping their bodies in a ditch along a little-used track, cutting off their clothes and setting fire to the bodies.

He also admitted taking the clothes back to Soham where he tried to destroy them.

But it was, he said, all an accident.

He had been helping Holly stem a nosebleed when he slipped and knocked her into a bath full of water.

He had dealt with Jessica's screams first rather than help the drowning child and had ended up smothering Jessica.

With two dead children in his house he had panicked about "what people would believe" and decided to dispose of the bodies rather than dial 999.

But this story was unpicked before the jury's eyes and the prosecution laid out an alternative version of events - that Huntley lured Holly and Jessica into his house, possibly with a sexual motivation, and murdered them.

Bodies hidden

In a "series of ruthless acts", Huntley tried to cover his tracks after killing the girls.

He waited until nightfall and then folded the bodies into the boot of his red Ford Fiesta and drove them to a quiet spot he knew near Lakenheath airbase, just across the Suffolk border.

Where police found fibres from the girls' shirts

With black bin liners around his feet to avoid leaving prints, he carried them up the rough track.

After cutting off their clothes, he waded deep into the nettles of a drainage ditch and dumped the bodies - at some point returning to set fire to them.

When he got back home after depositing the bodies, a "clammy" but calm Huntley joined the search for the girls.

The next day he began a clean-up operation at his home, washing the dining room carpet and scrubbing every inch of the house with what one police officer recalled was a "lemony" cleaning fluid.

He tried to cleanse his car, ripping out the boot lining and replacing it with household carpet.

He also removed a throw from the back seat.

Huntley took the car to a garage at Ely, had the tyres changed, despite them being hardly worn, and slipped the mechanic 10 to put a false number plate on the receipt.

But a forensic examination of the car when it was seized on 16 August still found evidence linking him to the girls.

In the foot-well and the wheel arches, scientists found traces of a distinctive mix of chalk, brick dust and concrete used to cover the road leading to the ditch.

Pollen from 64 types of plant at the site where the bodies were found - some of them quite rare - was also matched to grains in the car and on Huntley's shoes.

Courted media

In the fortnight after the girls disappeared, Huntley "played the role of the helpful caretaker" all the while trying to get his story straight by keeping abreast of the police operation.

On several occasions he asked officers how the search was progressing, how long DNA evidence lasted for and if anything significant had been found.

When police announced they had left a message on Jessica's mobile phone, Huntley wanted to know how it could be accessed.

He and his then girlfriend Maxine Carr worked out an alibi - that the girls had called at the house that evening while she had been in the bath, he had spoken to them but had not let them in.

The couple also co-operated with the media, giving several interviews to press and broadcast journalists in which they repeated the same story.

Clothing found

But after almost two weeks, the charade came to an abrupt end.

Suspicious of the fact Huntley was the last known person to see the girls, police took him and Carr in for questioning and searched their home.

The ditch where Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were found
Police gathered vital evidence from the ditch where the girls were found
They found a set of keys to a college outbuilding known as the "hangar".

And it was there, at 2300 BST on Saturday 16 August, a police officer found the girls' red tops, tracksuit bottoms, underwear and shoes at the bottom of an aluminium bin.

The clothes had been cut and burned but were still recognisable.

A forensic examination revealed a strand of Huntley's hair mixed in with the garments. His fingerprints were found on a bin bag placed on top.

In the early hours of Sunday 17 August, officers arrested Huntley and charged him with murdering Holly and Jessica.

At that point, a crucial piece of evidence was missing - the bodies. But within hours of the arrest, a gamekeeper had discovered the badly decomposed remains.

The meticulous care with which they were hidden, said the prosecution, showed the "devious and calculating" mind of a man who had lured the girls into his home, murdered them and tried to get away with it.

The jury agreed.

The BBC's Nick Higham
"Huntley couldn't destroy all the evidence"

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