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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 18:51 GMT
'Astounding dignity' of Soham families
Andy Tighe
By Andy Tighe
BBC home affairs correspondent at the Old Bailey

Their grief was unimaginable; their dignity was astounding.

Once again the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman faced the media.

They had endured a terrible ordeal. But somehow they managed to maintain their composure - as indeed they had throughout this trial.

Their anguished faces first appeared on our TV screens last August.

At first they were the parents of two young girls who had unaccountably gone missing on a warm summer evening in a small Cambridgeshire town.

Ordinary place

Few of us had ever heard of Soham; even fewer knew the Chapmans or the Wells.

Kevin and Nicola Wells
Kevin and Nicola Wells attended court throughout the trial

They were an ordinary family from an ordinary place doing ordinary things.

A barbecue, a shopping trip into nearby Cambridge, a new football shirt.

Those were the things that occupied their time until 4 August, 2002. Until Ian Huntley entered their lives and changed them for ever.

Eighteen months ago they were appealing for help, for information.

Theirs was the human dimension of an unfolding tragedy that would lead them to the hard, cruel truths of a double murder inquiry.

There would be arrests, interviews, searches, forensic investigations and finally a court case. A year-and-a-half of grim, ceaseless waiting.

Little bitterness

And yet, when it was all over and the killer of their beloved daughters finally convicted, there was no jubilation.

There was relief, of course. Some anger. But precious little bitterness.

"He was a time bomb just ready to go off," said Leslie Chapman, sitting beside his wife Sharon as they answered questions from journalists.

"Our girls were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

They thanked the police, the judge, the jury, the people of Soham, even the media.

'No worries'

But there was no pity for the man whose callous brutality tore their lives apart. "Our life sentence started last August," added Chapman. "His is just beginning."

Sharon and Leslie Wells
Sharon and Leslie Chapman welcomed Huntley's conviction

Only once did we get a glimpse of the true depth of his feelings.

"I hope that the next time I have to see him will be like we saw our daughters," he snapped. "In a coffin."

Nicola Wells' voice failed her as she recalled the little girl she had lost. "Happy, no worries..." she began, but could not complete the sentence.

There was a ripple of applause from the assembled journalists as the two couples left the press room.

No-one who has seen them sit, day after day at the back of Court Number One at the Old Bailey, could have failed to admire their bravery.

Ghastly forensic evidence had to be produced, chilling suggestions of sexual interference had to be made.

But they came, they listened and somehow they kept going right to the end of this harrowing ordeal.

Dreadful loss

Now they'll take a short break before going home and trying to return to some kind of normality.

Justice has been done and a murderer imprisoned.

But after a six-week trial, the jury found Ian Huntley's account of events in his house on 4 August completely implausible.

So what did happen? Why and how did he really kill them?

Only Huntley can answer that question - and truly help these poor families come to terms with their dreadful loss.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"The families gave their reaction"

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