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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Two arrested in girls murder inquiry
Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr
The couple can be held for 96 hours without charge
A school caretaker and his girlfriend have been arrested in connection with the murders of missing schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Ian Huntley, 28, is being held on suspicion of abducting and murdering both 10-year-old girls.

Holly Wells (left) and Jessica Chapman
Holly and Jessica have been missing 13 days

His girlfriend Maxine Carr, 25, has been arrested on suspicion of their murders, police revealed on Saturday.

Holly and Jessica vanished from near their homes in Soham, Cambridgeshire, on Sunday 4 August.

The arrests mark the first confirmation that police fear the girls may be dead although their bodies have not been found.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Hebb said that officers had also recovered items of "major interest" from Soham Village College, where Mr Huntley worked.

Open in new window : Holly and Jessica
Maps showing focus of the investigation

He said the items had been preserved at the scene and would be subject to forensic examinations which take a "considerable time".

The couple were arrested at around 0400 BST and taken to separate police stations in Cambridgeshire where they are being interviewed.

Mr Huntley had previously told police that he had spoken to the girls on the evening they went missing.

Search continues

Police can now hold the pair for up to 72 hours without charge and can apply to magistrates for an extension of a further 24 hours.

Holly and Jessica's parents have been informed about the developments.

Searches are continuing around Soham including the site which includes the college, the girls' primary school St Andrews and Mr Huntley's caretaker's cottage.

It was at the college only hours before that the missing girls' parents had publicly appealed to any abductors holding their daughters to give them back.

Soham Village College
Items of "interest" have been found at college
Detectives had already spent almost seven hours questioning Mr Huntley and Ms Carr at separate police stations on Friday.

Mr Huntley, a site manager at the college for the past nine months, and Ms Carr, a former teaching assistant in the girls' class, had given voluntary witness statements.

The pair had both agreed for their home, which is in the grounds of the college, to be searched on Friday.

The house was one of the last places where the 10-year-olds were seen on the day they went missing.

On Saturday the home and grounds of Mr Huntley's father Kevin, in Littleport which is about 10 miles from Soham, were also cordoned off to allow police to carry out a search.

Major manhunt

The girls' headteacher broke down in tears as he told how he felt numb when he heard about the latest developments.

Geoff Fisher said: "I have been clinging for the last two weeks to the hope that Jessica and Holly would be found alive, clinging to the hope that they would be starting school in September in their final year at St Andrew's".

Holly's mother Nicola Wells
The girls' parents made a series of appeals
He said that his thoughts turned immediately to Holly and Jessica's parents.

Soham Methodist minister Alan Ashton said the town was in deep shock.

He said the community stood on "the edge of grief" but the parents had been plunged into "an abyss of darkness".

"It is the absolute awful scenario and the emptiness in their homes will be so intense at this moment."

Soham vicar Tim Alban Jones said: "It is almost impossible to make sense of this.

Jessica and Holly's disappearances sparked one of Britain's biggest manhunts, involving more than 400 officers from 21 forces. More than 14,000 calls have been made to police since the case opened 13 days ago.

Police have always insisted that the key to solving the inquiry was likely to lie in or around Soham.

The BBC's Rachel Ellison
"This close-knit community is again in shock"
Former assistant Chief Constable John Stalker
"My heart bleeds for those parents"
Councillor John Powley
"Soham will never be the same again"

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