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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 12:36 GMT
New definition of trial by media
By Lisa Mitchell
BBC News Online

The Soham murder trial stands out not least because of the number of media interviews the prime suspects made before their arrests.

Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley
Carr and Huntley courted press attention from the outset
During the 10 days the girls were missing, Huntley and Carr made numerous appearances on television and in print.

They were interviews which were eventually to hold a courtroom spellbound by their coolness and audacity.

And the journalists who conducted them found their encounters with the pair had become crucial evidence.

Over the course of the trial, the jury watched first Huntley and then his former girlfriend describe their fears for the girls and the hopes of the local community that they would be found safe and well.

Past tense

In one interview, Carr was shown bursting into nervous giggles as she repeatedly referred to the still missing girls in the past tense.

Her lawyer said this was because journalist Rachel Dane, who had interviewed her for BBC Look East, had put her questions to the girls' former teaching assistant in the past tense.

In a Real Story for BBC1 on the case, Ms Dane describes how Carr deferred to Huntley when she was approached to do the interview.

Then Huntley muscled in and offered to be interviewed himself.

"I thought he wanted to put himself in the limelight, he wanted some of the attention on him," she said.

Huntley was quite adamant he did not want the interview to be shown nationally.

The jury was to later hear that there had been a rape allegation against him some years before when he lived in Grimsby.

At the time, Ms Dane did not find the stipulation strange: "It was unusual but at the time it was dismissed as something we needed to do in order to get the interview that we badly wanted."

Lying on tape

Journalists wanted the interviews with Carr because she had known the girls and with Huntley because he was the last known person to see them.

They were not to realise until much later that what they had written down, recorded or taped could be crucial to the case.

Ian Huntley during a TV interview

While trying to prove that Huntley was lying, the prosecution found itself in the unusual position of having footage of him doing it.

The interviews were used to show how Huntley callously tried to deflect attention from himself and spoke of there being "hope" for the girls' safety when he knew they were already dead.

Having the defendant on tape quite obviously lying is a powerful tool, says Nigel Pascoe QC, of the Bar Council.

"It's is much stronger than a recollection or a police notebook - it's him."

He adds there could be concerns if the interview had been highly colourful.

"Because it was on film, because that carries a great deal of weight, there might have been an argument that it was potentially unfair," he says.

"However, I think we will see a lot more of this kind of direct evidence and that's great."

You would never have guessed from his demeanour that Mr Beck's video appeal was directed at him
Journalist Sam Greenhill

Sam Greenhill, a reporter with the Press Association, met Huntley and Carr under what would transpire to be quite sinister circumstances.

He had a video tape of an appeal made by the man leading the inquiry into the girls' disappearance, Detective Superintendent David Beck, to their presumed abductors.

Casting around for somewhere to watch it, Sam had knocked on the door of the school caretaker and asked a favour - could he borrow their video player?

He told the court Huntley and Carr watched the police appeal in silence, Huntley even offering to rewind it and play it again.

"You would never have guessed from his demeanour that Mr Beck's video appeal was directed at him," says Mr Greenhill.

"Not a flicker of emotion passed across either of their grey, pallid faces."

In a final bit of play-acting, as the journalist apologised for taking up his time, Huntley said: "It's no trouble. Anything to help get those two little girls back."

  • Real Story on the Soham trial was screened on Wednesday night at 2100 GMT.

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