The Soham Murders occurred in Soham, Cambridgeshire, England, on 4 August 2002. The victims were two 10-year-old girls, Holly Marie Wells and Jessica Aimee Chapman. Their bodies were found near RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, on 17 August 2002, by local farm worker, Keith Pryer.
Jessica Aimee Chapman
Holly Marie Wells
1 September 1991 (Chapman)
4 October 1991 (Wells)
|Died||Both c. 4 August 2002 (aged 10)|
Soham, Cambridgeshire, England
|Cause of death||Murder|
|Body discovered||Lakenheath, Suffolk, England|
Ian Kevin Huntley, a caretaker at local secondary school Soham Village College, was convicted on 17 December 2003 of the girls' murder and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment, with the High Court later setting a minimum term of 40 years. His girlfriend, Maxine Ann Carr, was the girls' teaching assistant at St Andrew's Primary School. Carr had provided Huntley with a false alibi and received a three-and-a-half year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice.
On Sunday, 4 August 2002, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman attended a barbecue at Wells' home in Redhouse Gardens, Soham. At around 6:15 pm, they went out to buy sweets. On their way back, they walked past the house of Ian Huntley, the caretaker at the local secondary school. Huntley asked the girls into his house. He said that his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, their teaching assistant at St Andrew's Primary School, was in the house too. In fact, Carr had gone to visit family in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Shortly after the girls entered the house, Huntley murdered them.
Huntley's motive for killing the girls is unknown, but minutes before seeing them he reportedly slammed the telephone down on Carr following a furious argument. Huntley had allegedly suspected Carr of cheating on him, leading both Huntley's mother and police to suspect that Huntley killed the girls in a fit of jealous rage. The police found no evidence of premeditation.
Wells and Chapman were reported missing at 9.45 pm on 4 August by their parents. Afterwards, the police released a photograph – taken only hours before their disappearance – of them wearing Manchester United replica football shirts and a physical description of each of them, describing them as, "white, about 4 ft 6 in tall and slim".
Over the next fortnight, Huntley appeared in several television interviews, including on Sky News and the BBC's regional news programme Look East, speaking of the shock in the local community. One reporter suggested to Huntley that he might have been the last person to speak to the girls before they disappeared, to which Huntley replied: "Yeah, that's what it seems like." Huntley said their disappearance was "absolutely" a mystery and, during the second week of the search, told television crews that "while there's no news there's still that glimmer of hope, and that's basically what we're all hanging on to."
Carr was also interviewed by the press after her return from Grimsby during the first week of the search for the girls. She showed a reporter a thank-you card given to her by Wells on the last day of the school year. Carr said: "She was just lovely, really lovely" and urged the missing girls to "just come home". The police immediately noticed that Carr was referring to Wells in the past tense, even though she had not been reported dead and police were still treating their disappearance as a missing persons case rather than a possible murder investigation.
In the early days of the investigation, a woman living in the nearby village of Little Thetford claimed to have seen two girls whose appearance and clothing matched those of Wells and Chapman walking past her home on the morning after they were reported missing. Police also seized a white van from a caravan park in Wentworth, some ten miles from Soham, on 7 August.
On 9 August, CCTV footage of the girls from a few minutes before their disappearance was released, showing them arriving at the local sports centre. On the same day, police investigated the possibility that the girls had arranged to meet up with someone from an internet chatroom, but this was later ruled out. On 10 August, a reconstruction of the girls' movements was produced using two child actresses to encourage witnesses to come forward.
Police received information from a local taxi driver that the driver of a dark green saloon car (believed to be a Peugeot 405 or Vauxhall Vectra) was seen struggling with two children and driving "erratically" south of Soham and onto the Studlands Park housing estate in Newmarket on the evening the girls went missing. This sighting was made public on 13 August. That evening, a dog walker alerted police to two mounds of earth at Warren Hill, just outside Newmarket. The suggestion was that these might be the graves of the two missing girls. However, an overnight examination revealed that the mounds of earth were badger setts, and no trace of either girl was found.
Around the same time, police in Staffordshire claimed that the disappearance of the girls was linked to an abduction in the county the previous year, when a six-year-old girl had survived an attack by an abductor who was still at large and whose green Ford Mondeo was identified as having number-plates which had been stolen in Peterborough. The same man was also believed to have followed a 12-year-old girl in the same area, when his car was fitted with number-plates which had been stolen in Nottinghamshire. The same vehicle had since been spotted in Glatton, also in Cambridgeshire. This information was included in an appeal on Crimewatch, but did not shed any light on what might have happened to the two missing girls.
On 16 August, twelve days after the girls went missing, Huntley and Carr were first questioned by police and agreed to give witness statements during seven hours of questioning before being released. Police had already received information from people in Grimsby who recognised Ian Huntley on television and recalled that he had been accused of rape several years earlier, as well as people who recalled that Maxine Carr had in fact been in Grimsby on the night that the girls had been missing, and not at home in Soham as she had mentioned in a TV news interview - during which she had referred to Holly Wells in the past tense, as though she was no longer alive.
That night, with the couple under police watch at separate locations outside Soham, police searched their home, as well as the grounds of Soham Village College, and recovered items of "major importance" to their investigation. Although it was not made public at the time, the items recovered from the school grounds were clothes matching those the girls were last seen wearing, including their Manchester United shirts. Huntley and Carr were arrested in the early hours of 17 August, on suspicion of murder. This was the first time that the police announced that they feared the girls were now dead.
The bodies of both girls were found in a ditch near the perimeter fence of RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, more than 10 miles east of Soham, on the afternoon of 17 August. They were formally identified on 21 August. The girls had been missing for thirteen days when their bodies were found, with police stating that both corpses were "severely decomposed and partially skeletonised". The bodies were discovered by local gamekeeper Keith Pryer, who had noticed "an unusual and unpleasant smell" in the area several days earlier, and when returning to the area he had decided to investigate the cause of the smell. Within a week, by which time DNA tests confirmed that the bodies were definitely those of the missing girls, it was established at an inquest in Cambridge that the girls had almost certainly not died at the location where their bodies were found, and had instead been murdered at another location before their bodies were placed there.
Huntley later admitted in court that he had returned to the site several days after the girls died to set the bodies alight, in what police saw as an attempt on his part to destroy any forensic evidence; however, forensic ecologist, botanist and palynologist Patricia Wiltshire was able to identify the approximate time the bodies were placed and provide evidence that proved Huntley to be the killer, based on analysis of the soil environment.
Huntley was charged with two counts of murder on 20 August, and detained under Section 48 of the Mental Health Act at Rampton Secure Hospital, Nottinghamshire, where his mental state was assessed to determine whether he suffered from mental illness and whether he was fit to stand trial. Dr. Christopher Clark, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, carried out the assessment and stated in court: "Although Mr Huntley made clear attempts to appear insane, I have no doubt that the man currently, and at the time of the murders, was both physically and mentally sound and therefore, if he is found guilty, carried out the murders totally aware of his actions." A judge ruled on 8 October 2002 that he was, therefore, fit to stand trial.
Having been declared fit to stand trial, Huntley was faced with a sentence of life imprisonment if a jury could be convinced of his guilt. He was subsequently moved to Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, where he attempted suicide on 9 June 2003 by taking 29 antidepressants which he had stashed in his cell. There were fears that Huntley might die as a result of the overdose, but, within 48 hours, he was back in prison and was later transferred to Belmarsh prison in London. After Huntley's trial, it was revealed that he had refused to answer questions and dribbled throughout police attempts to question him, leaving the police with no option but to refer him to a mental hospital for assessment. Those who saw him at his first court appearance described him as a "blank-eyed silent zombie" who twitched and shuffled when sitting in the dock.
Ian Kevin Huntley
31 January 1974
|Other names||Ian Nixon|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment (40-year minimum term)|
Ian Kevin Huntley was born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, on 31 January 1974, the first son of Kevin and Linda Huntley. He spent two months living in the village of Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk, and also spent time living in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire.
In February 1999, Huntley (then aged 25) met 22-year-old Maxine Carr at Hollywood's nightclub in Grimsby town centre. She moved in with him at his flat in Barton-upon-Humber, Carr found a job packing fish at the local fish processing factory while Huntley worked as a barman. Huntley, who for some time was legally known as Ian Nixon, also travelled to Cambridgeshire on his days off to help his father who was working as a school caretaker in the village of Littleport near Ely.
In September 2001, Huntley applied for the position of caretaker at Soham Village College, a secondary school in the small town between Newmarket and Ely. Huntley was accepted for the post and began work on 26 November 2001; the caretaker's job came with a tied cottage.
Trial and subsequent revelationsEdit
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Huntley's trial opened at the Old Bailey on 5 November 2003 before Justice Alan Moses, charged with two counts of murder. The families of Wells and Chapman were present for the duration. Huntley admitted that the girls had died in his house; he claimed that he accidentally knocked Wells into the bath while helping her control a nosebleed, and this caused her to drown. Chapman witnessed this and he claimed that he accidentally suffocated her while attempting to stifle her screaming. By the time he realised what he was doing, it was too late to save either of them. Based on this version of events, he admitted manslaughter.
The jury rejected his claims that the girls had died accidentally and, on 17 December 2003, returned a majority verdict of guilty on both counts of murder. Huntley was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term to be decided by the Lord Chief Justice at a later date.
After Huntley was convicted, it was revealed that he had been investigated in the past for sexual offences and burglary. In August 1995, when Huntley was 21 years old, a joint investigation was launched by police and social services in Grimsby after a 15-year-old girl stated that she had been having sex with Huntley. Police did not pursue the case against Huntley in accordance with the girl's wishes. In March 1996, Huntley was charged in connection with a burglary at a Grimsby house, in which he and an accomplice allegedly stole electrical goods, jewellery and cash. The case reached court and was ordered to lie on file. In early 1996, Huntley was investigated three times over allegations of underage sex, but was not charged for any of these offences.
In April 1998, Huntley was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman. He admitted having sex with the woman, but claimed it was consensual and was not charged. However, a month later, Huntley was charged and remanded in custody after an 18-year-old Grimsby woman claimed to have been raped by him on her way home from a nightclub in the town. The charge was dropped a week later after the Crown Prosecution Service examined CCTV images from the nightclub and determined that there was no chance of a conviction. In July 1998, Huntley was investigated by the police on allegations that he indecently assaulted an 11-year-old girl in the previous September. He was never charged, though in April 2007 he confessed to the attack. Huntley was investigated over allegations of rape on a 17-year-old girl in February 1999, but no charges were made against him.
The final allegation came in July 1999, when a woman was raped and Huntley – by now suspected by local police as a serial sex offender – was interviewed. He supplied a DNA sample and had an alibi provided by Carr to assert his innocence. The woman subsequently said that Huntley was not the rapist. This was the only case where the victim had not identified or named Huntley as the attacker.
The school where Huntley worked admitted that his references were not checked when he was employed.
Home Secretary David Blunkett ordered an inquiry into these revelations, chaired by Sir Michael Bichard, and later ordered the suspension of David Westwood, Chief of Humberside Police. The inquiry criticised Humberside Police for deleting information relating to previous allegations against Huntley and criticised Cambridgeshire Constabulary for not following vetting guidelines. An added complication in the vetting procedures was the fact that Huntley had applied for the caretaker's job under the name of Ian Nixon, although he did state on the application form that he was once known as Ian Huntley. It is believed that Humberside Police either did not check under the name Huntley on the police computer – if they had then they would have discovered a burglary charge left on file – or did not check either name.
Huntley was sentenced to life imprisonment and on 29 September 2005 his minimum term was decided. On this date, High Court judge Mr Justice Moses (who had been his trial judge nearly two years earlier) announced that Huntley must remain in prison until he had served at least 40 years; a minimum term which would not allow him to be released until at least 2042, by which time he would be 68 years old. In setting this minimum term, Mr. Justice Moses stated: "The order I make offers little or no hope of the defendant's eventual release."
The previous allegations which had been made against Huntley regarding sexual offences and burglary were made public immediately after his conviction and sentencing. It was also revealed that Huntley had dribbled and refused to answer questions immediately after his arrest, which had led to him being sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 for nearly two months before he was declared fit to stand trial. Doctors at Rampton Secure Hospital found no evidence of mental illness in their assessment of Huntley, and the police's belief that he had feigned madness was further strengthened when a former girlfriend contacted them and stated that Huntley would often feign mental illness during the 1990s when he came to the attention of police over various allegations.
Huntley was among the last of more than 500 life sentence prisoners waiting to have minimum terms set by the Lord Chief Justice after the Home Secretary's tariff-setting procedures were declared illegal in November 2002 following a legal challenge by convicted murderer Anthony Anderson, whose minimum term had been increased by the Home Secretary during the 1990s. Anyone convicted of murder after 18 December 2003 would have a minimum term set by the trial judge, with the final decision now resting with the High Court instead of the Home Secretary.
Maxine Ann Carr
16 February 1977
|Conviction(s)||Perverting the course of justice|
|Criminal penalty||42 months' imprisonment|
Maxine Carr initially provided a false alibi to police for Huntley, claiming to have been with him at the time of the murders when she was in fact in Grimsby. She was charged with perverting the course of justice on 21 August 2002. On 16 January 2003 she was charged with two counts of assisting an offender. The police investigation suggested that Carr knew Huntley had committed the murders but had provided him with an alibi in an attempt to prevent him from being accused. She pleaded guilty to the first charge and not guilty to the second. Carr's failure to expose Huntley's lies in the early stages of the investigation (before either of them were arrested) meant that police initially eliminated Huntley as a suspect; due to her false statement, it took the police nearly two weeks to arrest and charge him.
The court accepted that Carr had only lied to the police to protect Huntley because she believed his claims of innocence and so found her not guilty of assisting an offender, deciding that she had been unaware that Huntley had committed the murders. She was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and was released on probation on 14 May 2004 after serving 21 months (including 16 months on remand). Carr was given a new secret identity to protect her from threats of attack from members of the public that had been made during her remand, as well as during and after the trial. After release, Carr and her family were negotiating towards an autobiographical book deal, but Mirage Publishing withdrew after a feature on BBC Radio Newcastle prompted scores of objections.
On 3 April 2004, the house in College Close in which the murders occurred was demolished and the site levelled, with the materials being disposed of in secret locations.
The Wells and Chapman families received £11,000 in compensation for the deaths of their daughters, a statutory payment administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. The compensation tariffs are set by the Parliament and administered by the Civil Service. The compensation was widely criticised in the media; the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, Clive Elliott, described it as a "pittance". The media highlighted the much higher payouts that could be paid to victims of other crimes, as well as payouts which have been made in civil law, and that the maximum possible payout anyone could have received under the scheme at the time was £500,000.
On the day of Huntley's conviction, the Home Secretary David Blunkett announced an inquiry into the vetting system which allowed Huntley to get a caretaker's job at a school despite four separate complaints about him reaching social services. One of the pertinent issues surfaced almost immediately when Humberside Police stated that they believed that it was unlawful under the Data Protection Act to hold data regarding allegations which did not lead to a conviction; this was contradicted by other police forces who thought this too strict an interpretation of the Act. There was also considerable concern about the police investigation into the girls' murders, as it took nearly two weeks before the police became aware of previous sexual allegations against Huntley and, although he was identified as the last person to see either of the two children, his story was not effectively checked out early during the investigation.
Huntley had not been convicted of any of the criminal allegations, but his burglary charge had remained on file. Howard Gilbert, then headteacher of Soham Village College, later said that he would not have employed Huntley if he had been aware of the burglary charge, as one of Huntley's key responsibilities was to ensure security in the school grounds – a role unfit for a suspected burglar. The murders led to tightening of procedures in the Criminal Records Bureau system which checks the criminal background of people who work with children, following criticism that the system had weaknesses and loopholes.
Huntley in prisonEdit
On 14 September 2005, Huntley was scalded with boiling water at Wakefield Prison by fellow inmate and quadruple murderer Mark Hobson. A prison service spokesman said that, due to the nature of high-security prisoners, "it's impossible to prevent incidents of this nature occasionally happening", but Huntley alleged that the prison authorities had failed in their duty of care towards him, and launched a claim for £15,000 compensation. Huntley was reportedly awarded £2,500 in legal aid to pursue this claim, a move strongly criticised by the Soham MP James Paice, who insisted on tight restrictions on the use of public money for compensation, and said, "The people I represent have no sympathy for him at all". Huntley's injuries meant that he did not attend the hearing later that month at which his minimum term was decided.
On 5 September 2006, Huntley was found unconscious in his prison cell and thought to have taken an overdose. He was under police guard in hospital for two days, before being returned to Wakefield prison, prompting much reaction from many present at the scene, as well as making the front pages of many British newspapers the next morning. Following this attempted suicide, Huntley's cell was cleared and a tape was found which was marked with "Queen" on one side and "Meat Loaf" on the other. This tape is thought to contain confessions from Huntley on what he did and how he did it. It is believed that Huntley made the tape in return for antidepressants from a fellow prisoner, who hoped to later sell the confession to the media after his release. On 28 March 2007, The Sun began publishing transcripts of Huntley's taped confession.
In April 2007, Huntley confessed to having sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl after dragging her into an orchard in 1997. His victim won the right to damages against Huntley. He was believed to be insolvent so was unlikely to pay any damages, but she claimed to feel "a massive sense of relief" at his confession. This followed repeated denials by Huntley that there had been a sexual element in the Soham murders, which the sentencing judge described as likely but not proven, and that was given as a reason for a whole life tariff not being imposed.
On 23 January 2008, Huntley was moved to Frankland Prison near Durham. On 21 March 2010, he was taken to hospital, with media reports stating that his throat had been slashed by another inmate; his injuries were not said to be life-threatening. The prisoner who wounded Huntley was later named as convicted armed robber Damien Fowkes, who went on to kill another convicted child killer, Colin Hatch. Huntley applied for a £20,000 compensation payout for his injuries. On 11 June 2011, the Daily Mirror reported that Fowkes might not be tried over the attack on Huntley amid concerns about his mental health. However, in October 2011, Fowkes pleaded guilty at Hull Crown Court to the attempted murder of Huntley, as well as the manslaughter of Hatch. Fowkes received a second life sentence for the two attacks.
Carr after releaseEdit
Carr was released from prison on 14 May 2004, having served half of her sentence, and immediately received police protection. She won an injunction on 24 February 2005, granting her lifelong anonymity on the grounds that her life would otherwise be in danger. The costs of this have been reported by different tabloid newspapers as being between £1 million and £50 million, costs that would possibly have been unnecessary were it not for what former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade described as tabloids "whipping up the kind of public hysteria guaranteed to incite misguided people to take the law into their own hands". Carr became one of four former prisoners to be given entirely new identities, along with double-child killer Mary Bell and the two child-murderers of James Bulger. At least a dozen women have been attacked and persecuted by those "enraged by fake stories about Carr published by red-top papers", as Greenslade said. Channel 4 released a documentary describing this as a modern witchhunt against unknown women of similar appearance to Carr who have recently moved into an area.
In 2011, Carr gave birth to her first child by her new husband. The anonymity order extends to include the child, so that he or she should never know their mother's previous identity.
An inquiry was announced on 18 December 2003, and Sir Michael Bichard was appointed as the chairman. The stated purpose was:
|“||Urgently to enquire into child protection procedures in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary in the light of the recent trial and conviction of Ian Huntley for the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.
In particular to assess the effectiveness of the relevant intelligence-based record keeping, the vetting practices in those forces since 1995 and information sharing with other agencies, and to report to the Home Secretary on matters of local and national relevance and make recommendations as appropriate.
The inquiry opened on 13 January 2004. The findings of the Bichard inquiry were published in June that year. The Humberside and Cambridgeshire police forces were heavily criticised for their failings in maintaining intelligence records on Huntley. The inquiry also recommended a registration scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults such as the elderly. The development of this recommendation led to the foundation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. It also suggested a national system should be set up for police forces to share intelligence information. The report said there should also be a clear code of practice on record-keeping by all police forces.
Police Reform Act 2002Edit
Bichard's report severely criticised the Chief Constable of Humberside Police, David Westwood, for ordering the destruction of criminal records of child abusers. Though supported by the Humberside Police Authority, he was suspended by Blunkett using powers granted under the Police Reform Act 2002 to order suspension as "necessary for the maintenance of public confidence in the force in question". The suspension was later lifted, with Westwood agreeing to retire a year early in March 2005.
The Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Tom Lloyd, was also criticised as his force had failed to contact Humberside Police during the vetting procedure. Lloyd was criticised by the police inspectorate for being slow to cut short a holiday after the investigation had become the largest in the force's history. The inspectorate also criticised a "lack of grip" on the investigation, which included nationally televised appeals by footballer David Beckham, and Detective Superintendent David Beck who announced that he had left a message for abductors on Chapman's mobile phone before the case was taken from him. Another complication was that two Cambridgeshire police officers involved with the families of the murdered girls had become Operation Ore suspects a month before the murders. Antony Goodridge, one of the exhibits officers, later pleaded guilty to child pornography offences and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Detective Constable Brian Stevens, who had spoken at the memorial service, was acquitted of charges of indecent assault and child pornography offences when no evidence was offered by the prosecution.
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- Casefile True Crime Podcast - Case 08: Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - 27 February 2016