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EDITIONS
Monday, 19 August, 2002, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
'It could have been our children'
Local people view flowers at St andrew's Church in Soham
Holly and Jessica's deaths have hit Soham hard

Counsellors say many people who narrowly escape death in major disasters experience delayed shock - the 'It could have been me' syndrome.

In the wake of the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, this effect has been replaced by the chilling thought that 'It could have been my children'.


We have dealt with people who are really angry and who need to speak with someone to get that emotion out

Counsellor Jenny Pardoe

"Don't be afraid that you are angry, don't be surprised that you are grieving too," counsellors have been telling a steady stream of callers to the Cambridgeshire County Council emergency helpline.

Dozens of people who are experiencing both emotions have already been talked through their anxieties by those dealing with the emotional aftermath of the killings.

Outside St Andrew's Church, Soham
There has been an outpouring of grief

The emergency counselling lines are being run from a disaster planning bunker in Cambridge, a bomb-proof underground complex last used to provide a logistical base during the recent flooding in the area.

Four counsellors - from a pool of 16 educational psychologists and social workers from Cambridgeshire - are staffing phone-lines in a series of three-hour shifts - covering 12 hours a day.

They took 30 calls in the first three hours - some lasting for over two hours.

Team leader, Jenny Pardoe, counselled survivors and victims' families after the Kings Cross blaze in 1987 in which 31 people died.

A team of counsellors are fielding phone calls
A team of counsellors are fielding phone calls
She found that many people who narrowly escaped being killed - those who took an earlier train or a different route into the city - experienced shock which took them unawares.

"People we have talked to today, many of them parents of children at Holly and Jessica's school, have been taken aback by the intense feelings they have experienced, for the loss of someone else's children.

"What we can offer them, is someone who will listen and understand what they are going through, someone to talk to and someone who can give them advice on where to turn.

Some of the callers' questions are tough to answer
Local people have been asking painful questions
"We have dealt with people who are really angry and who need to speak with someone to get that emotion out. That is the right thing to do."

The council's advice line will run until demand ends.

It was set up to provide a neutral, outside forum for the people of Soham to discuss their feelings, complementing the work that the community is already doing for itself.

A team of local doctors, churchmen and social workers has already been giving informal advice and support to the town throughout the trauma of the past two weeks.

"Whatever facilities that are being offered, whatever support that is out there, we would urge people to take it up," said Reverend Alan Ashton, Soham's Methodist minister.

The parents of the murdered children have already thanked the wider community for their sympathy and help.

Here in Cambridge is another reminder of how the tragic events have touched that community and drawn its unqualified support.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Christine Stewart
"There's little more that local people can do except express their sadness and support"
Beverley Hughes, child protection minister
"Its important that we take a measured and long term view"
Cruse Bereavement Care's Anne Viney
"[The helpline] is an absolutely excellent idea"

Click here to go to Cambridgeshire


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19 Aug 02 | England
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