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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Van seized in missing girls inquiry
Area for prayers at St Andrews Church
Prayers are being offered for the girls' safe return
Police searching for the missing 10 year olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have seized a white van from a caravan park near their homes.

The move came amid growing fears that the girls have been abducted, and as their parents told a press conference the disappearance was completely out of character.

Officers impounded the vehicle at 0630 BST on Wednesday in the hamlet of Wentworth, 10 miles from Soham in Cambridgeshire, where the girls vanished on Sunday evening.

It followed reports that a man had been cruising the area at the time when the girls disappeared.

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

Det Supt David Hankins, who is leading the investigation, said: "On the strength of information we have received, we have seized a white van from the Wentworth area as it was cruising the area on the night Holly and Jessica disappeared. It may be relevant to our inquiries."

Police who led the hunt in Sussex for murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne have been drafted in to help, as the search focuses on the Fenland waterways.

More than 2,000 calls have been received from the public so far and police are appealing for any more witnesses to come forward.
Nicola Wells
Nicola Wells said Holly would have rung home

DS Hankins told Wednesday's press conference the theory the girls had played a prank or had an accident was fast diminishing.

DS Hankins said: "Now we are sadly having to consider the possibility of an abduction.

"As each day and each hour passes, our concerns for the safety of Holly and Jessica increases.

"Sadly, this inquiry is rapidly turning from a missing persons inquiry to an investigation of criminal abduction."


Anyone who's got children must know what we're going through

Nicola Wells
Holly's mother

The last confirmed sighting of Holly and Jessica was at 1830BST on Sunday near the girls' homes in the village of Soham, near Cambridge.

It is thought Holly and Jessica were on their way to buy sweets when they went missing.

A woman reported on Tuesday that she had seen two girls matching their description walking along the A10 towards Cambridge at 0645 BST on Monday.

But DS Hankins said there was now a "shadow of doubt" surrounding this sighting, because no-one else had come forward.

Hotline

A second possible sighting of the girls in the Little Thetford area is not considered significant because the clothes did not match what they were thought to be wearing.

Nicola Wells, Holly's mother, said: "Anyone who's got children must know what we're going through.

"If they were able to get to a phone or get help, they would."
Detective Superintendent David Hankins
Hankins: "Possible" abduction

Jessica's mother, Sharon Chapman, said this was totally out of character because she was such a sensible and confident girl.

"Jessica doesn't like the dark, she would come home," she said.

On Wednesday, officers using inflatable boats were checking waterways and river banks for clues as to the girls' whereabouts, and police divers were on stand-by.

The use of specialist tracker dogs from South Wales Police and interviews with local bus drivers have so far failed to provide any new leads for the 100-plus officers working on the case.

Both girls are described as being white, about 4ft 6in tall and slim. Jessica is tanned and has shoulder-length brown hair while Holly is fair and has blonde hair.

They were both wearing Manchester United shirts at the time, and police have asked other youngsters in the area not to wear anything similar, to avoid confusion.

Police have issued a dedicated telephone hotline for the public to call if anyone has any information about the two girls - 01480 422982.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"A white van was seen cruising the area when the girls disappeared"
Police briefing
Click here to watch the news conference with the missing girls' parents
Missing Persons Helpline's Sophie Woodforde
"Young people tend to be away for a short time"


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07 Aug 02 | UK
12 Dec 01 | UK
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