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Monday, 26 August, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Calls for inquiry into Soham coverage
Girl delivers flowers
Thousands of floral tributes have been left in Soham
Calls for an inquiry into the nature of newspaper reports following the deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells are growing.

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has said he is concerned about some of the reports published after caretaker Ian Huntley was charged with murder and his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

He told the BBC he feared some of the articles could prevent a fair trial for the couple, from Soham in Cambridgeshire, and that they could also form the basis of any appeal.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
Holly and Jessica's bodies were found last weekend
Meanwhile, a leading clergyman has appealed for the return of a book of condolence dedicated to the 10-year-olds, which was stolen from Birmingham Cathedral.

In Soham itself, the vicar of the church which became a focal point for people's grief has asked for the community to be left to grieve in peace.

The town has been in the public eye since the girls went missing from their homes on 4 August.

'Depth and volume'

Mr Fabricant, a member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said he wanted his colleagues to investigate how the law was being applied to press coverage of the case.

He spoke out after the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, wrote to editors to remind them about the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which restricts what can be published after an arrest.

Mr Fabricant said: "My concern, of course, is... will they actually get a fair trial in a year from now, whenever the trial happens to take place?

"And indeed, if they are found guilty - and we don't know of course - will an appeal be lodged on the basis that there hasn't been a fair trial?"

Mr Fabricant suggested that lawyers for the couple could argue that the "jury has already been influenced because they have read the sheer depth and volume and tone of the coverage so far".

'Negative'

Roy Greenslade, media analyst and former editor of the Mirror, told BBC News that he also felt the media had acted "reprehensibly".

Reverend Tim Alban Jones of St Andrew's Church, Soham
Rev Tim Alban Jones: Call for community to grieve in peace
"What they're attempting to do by presenting this couple in as negative a light as possible, is to convict them even before a trial," he said.

But Mark Stephens, a senior lawyer with media solicitors Finers Stephens Innocent, said reporting so far had not prejudiced any future case.

"The reporting has not presumed the guilt of these people. It has not created an expectation of guilt," he said.

He added: "The trial will take place in nine or 10 months.

"I think that the memory of the coverage we are seeing at the moment will have dissipated and the media will be reporting this case in a very different way."

'Inexplicable'

The theft of the book of condolences was condemned by the Dean of Birmingham Cathedral, the Very Reverend Gordon Mursell, as "a terrible insult both to the people of Birmingham and to the families to whom it was going to be sent".

The Diocese of Birmingham said the thief could return it to any church - with no questions asked.

The Reverend Tim Alban Jones of St Andrew's Church in Soham said the people of Soham were "very grateful" for the public support and sympathy shown to them.

"But it's time for us to have some time and space now to be alone and to heal and to grieve in private."

He said the theft of the book of condolence was "inexplicable".

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

On Sunday police said they had found items of clothing believed to have been worn by Holly and Jessica.

They would not confirm where or when the items were found, or what they were.

Former school caretaker Ian Huntley, 28, is being held at Rampton secure hospital, while Ms Carr, 25, is on remand in Holloway prison.


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26 Aug 02 | England
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