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The Soham murders was a high profile murder case in August 2002 of two ten-year-old girls in Sohammarker, Cambridgeshire, Englandmarker. The victims were Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. The convicted killer was a local school caretaker, Ian Huntley.

Ian Huntley

Ian Kevin Huntley was born in Grimsbymarker, Lincolnshiremarker, on 31 January 1974, the first son of Kevin and Linda Huntley.

In February 2001, Huntley (then 27) met 22-year-old Maxine Carr at Hollywood's nightclub in Grimsbymarker town centre. She later moved in with him at his flat in Barton-upon-Humbermarker, a small town on the southern banks of the River Humbermarker. Carr found a job packing fish at the local fish processing factory while Huntley worked as a barman. He also travelled to Cambridgeshire on his days off to help his father who was now working as a school caretaker in the village of Littleportmarker near Elymarker. He enjoyed the work so much that in September 2001 he applied for the position of caretaker at Sohammarker Village College, a secondary school in a small town between Cambridgemarker and Ely. The job had become vacant after the previous caretaker was dismissed for having an inappropriate relationship with a female pupil.

Huntley was accepted for the post of caretaker at Soham Village Collegemarker and began work on 26 November 2001.


Shortly before the murders on 4 August 2002 at around 18:15, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had attended a barbecue at Holly's family home. They then went out to buy some sweets. On their way back they walked past Huntley's rented house in College Close. Huntley asked them to come into the house. He said that Carr, his girlfriend, was in the house as well, although in fact she had gone to visit family back in Grimsbymarker. Shortly after Holly and Jessica entered 5 College Close, Huntley murdered them.

Huntley's reasons for committing the murders may never be known, but minutes before seeing the girls, Huntley had slammed the telephone down on Carr, after a furious argument. Huntley had allegedly suspected Carr of cheating on him. The police suspected that Huntley killed the girls in a fit of jealous rage. There may have also been a sexual motive. It seems likely that either, or possibly both, of these motives drove Huntley to kill the girls - the police found no evidence of pre-meditation.

Police investigation

When the girls first went missing, the police released photographs of the two girls in Manchester United replica shirts along with a physical description of each of them which described them as "white, about 4ft 6in tall and slim".

The search for the girls was one of the most highly publicised missing person searches in British history and Huntley even appeared on Sky News and the BBC's Look East regional news programme speaking of the shock of the local community. Their bodies were found near the perimeter fence of RAF Lakenheathmarker in Suffolk, on 17 August 2002. Just twelve hours later, their clothing was discovered in the grounds of Soham Village College and Huntley was arrested. The girls had been missing for 13 days when their bodies were found, with police stating that both corpses were "severely decomposed and partially skeletonised" - Huntley had set them alight in a bid to destroy the forensic evidence.

Huntley was later charged with two counts of murder and detained under Section 48 of the Mental Health Act 1983, at Rampton Hospitalmarker, before a judge decided that he was fit to stand trial on 8 October 2002. He was subsequently moved to Woodhill Prisonmarker at Milton Keynesmarker, where he attempted suicide on 9 June 2003 by taking 29 anti-depressants which he had stashed away in his cell. There were fears that Huntley could die as a result of the overdose, but within 48 hours he was back in prison and was later transferred to Belmarsh Prisonmarker.

When the girls were first reported missing, Huntley was not the police's prime suspect, as on the same day that the two girls were reported as missing, the body of another man was found on a nearby railway line - he was believed to have committed suicide. However, it was later discovered that this was simply a coincidence, and that the dead man, whose name was never confirmed, was ruled out of the police inquiry when it was established that he had died the day before the girls went missing.

Mental assessment

Ian Huntley's mental state was assessed as to whether he suffered from mental illness and if he was fit to stand trial. This assessment took place at Rampton Secure Hospitalmarker and was carried out by consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Christopher Clark.

Dr. Clark stated in court that:

This left Huntley facing life imprisonment if a jury could be convinced of his guilt.

Huntley's trial

Huntley's trial opened at the Old Baileymarker on 5 November 2003. He was charged with two counts of murder.

Huntley admitted that the girls had died in his house, however claimed that he accidentally knocked Holly into the bath while helping her control a nosebleed, instantly killing her. Jessica witnessed this and he suffocated her while attempting to stifle her screaming. Based on this evidence, he admitted manslaughter. The jury however, 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 sentenced to life imprisonment, with his 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, but had still been allowed to work in a school as none of these investigations had resulted in a conviction. Indeed, Huntley's only previous conviction was for riding a motorcycle without a licence or insurance (an offence for which he had been convicted in 1993).

Home Secretary David Blunkett ordered an inquiry into these failings, 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 Police 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 at all.


Huntley was sentenced to life imprisonment but it was not until 29 September 2005 that his minimum term was decided. On this date, the High Courtmarker announced that Huntley must remain in prison until he has served at least 40 years; a minimum term which will not allow him to be released until at least 2042, by which time he will be 68 years old.

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. Anyone who committed a murder after 18 December 2003 would have a minimum term recommended by the trial judge and later confirmed - or amended - by the High Courtmarker.

Maxine Carr

Maxine Carr had initially provided a false alibi to police for Huntley, claiming to be with Huntley at the time of the murders when she was actually in Grimsbymarker. She was charged with perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender. She pleaded Guilty to the first charge and Not Guilty to the second.

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. She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and was released on probation on 14 May 2004 after serving 21 months. She was given a new secret identity for her protection.

After the trial

The Wells and Chapman families received £11,000 in compensation for the death of their daughters. The compensation was widely criticised in the media; the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, Clive Elliott, described it as a "pittance".

Following the announcement of Huntley's conviction, it emerged that various authorities were aware of allegations, from a number of sources, that he had committed one act of indecent assault, four acts of underage sex and three rapes.

The only one of these allegations that resulted in a charge was a rape, which he had been remanded in custody for, but released when the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was not enough evidence for a conviction. Huntley had also been charged with burgling a neighbour in Grimsby, but he was not convicted, although the charge remained on file.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 (where all the alleged offences had taken place) 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 these murders. It took nearly two weeks before the police became aware of previous sexual allegations against Ian Huntley, and despite him being 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 under-age sex, indecent assault or rape allegations, but his burglary charge had remained on file. Mr Howard Gilbert, the then head teacher of Soham Village College, later said that he would not have employed Huntley as a caretaker if he had been aware of the burglary charge, as one of Huntley's key responsibilities in his role was to ensure security in the school grounds.

Ian Huntley

On 14 September 2005 Huntley was scalded with boiling water when another inmate, Mark Hobson (serving life for a 2004 quadruple murder in Yorkshiremarker), attacked him. 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 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, Jim 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 at which his minimum term was decided.

On 5 September 2006, Huntley was found unconscious in his prison cell, thought to have taken an overdose. He had previously taken an overdose of anti-depressants at Woodhill Prisonmarker in June 2003, while awaiting his trial. He was under police guard in hospital until 7 September, when he was returned to Wakefield Prison, prompting much reaction from many present at the scene as well as making the front pages of many of the UK papers the next morning. Following this attempted suicide his 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 Ian Huntley on what he did and how he did it. It is believed that Huntley made the tape in return for anti-depressants from a fellow prisoner, who hoped to obtain and later sell the confession to the media upon his release. On 28 March 2007, The Sun began publishing transcripts of Huntley's taped confession.

On 23 January 2008, Ian Huntley was moved to Frankland marker in County Durham.


Maxine Carr was released from prison on 14 May 2004, 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 from lynch mobs. 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 Roy Greenslade has described as tabloid newspapers "whipping up the kind of public hysteria guaranteed to incite misguided people to take the law into their own hands."

Some tabloids have taken to writing inaccurate articles designed to smear her, possibly because of her unusual legal position. She has been variously accused of receiving thousands of pounds worth of dental treatment at the taxpayers' expense, applying for a childcare course, negotiating a £1 million book deal with a publisher and making a series of sensational demands in order to live abroad. All these stories were untrue, but Maxine Carr was unable to make any formal response to them without jeopardising her anonymity.

At least a dozen women have been brutally attacked and persecuted as a result of lynch mobs "enraged by fake stories about Carr published by red-top papers", as Roy Greenslade puts it. 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.

Bichard inquiry

The inquiry was announced on 18 December 2003, and Sir Michael Bichard was appointed as the chairman. The stated purpose was:

The inquiry opened on 13 January 2004. The findings of the Bichard Inquiry were published in June 2004. Humberside and Cambridgeshire police forces were heavily criticised for their failings in maintaining intelligence records on Huntley.

The inquiry also recommends a registration scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults, like 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 2002

Sir Michael 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 Humberside Police Authority, he was suspended by then Home Secretary David 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 Police, Tom Lloyd had also been 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 a holiday short 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 both footballer David Beckham and Detective Superintendent David Beck, who announced that he had left a message for abductors on Jessica's mobile phone before the case was taken from him.

Another complication was that two of the 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 given a six-month sentence. Detective Constable Brian Stevens, who had spoken at the memorial service, was cleared of charges of indecent assault and child pornography offences after the poor presentation of prosecution evidence by a computer expert caused the trial to be stopped. Stevens was later convicted of a charge of perverting the course of justice after it was proved that he had given a false alibi to clear himself of the charges, and was given an eight month sentence.

See also


  1. Ian Huntley should never go free says Falconer Sunday Telegraph, 18 March 2007, Retrieved 4 February 2008
  2. Carr released from prison BBC News. 14 May 2004.
  4. Huntley scalded in prison attack BBC News 15 September 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2008
  5. BBC NEWS Soham killer treated for overdose BBC News 5 September 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2008
  6. Child killer 'gave drugs to Huntley' Cambridge News, 12 Sep 2006 Retrieved 4 February 2008
  7. Huntley: I lied for lover Maxine The Sun 28 March 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2008
  8. Selling lies is not press freedom The Guardian, 28 February 2005
  9. PCC must act over hounding of Maxine Carr The Guardian, 16 May 2005
  10. PCC must act over hounding of Maxine Carr The Guardian, 16 May 2005
  15. Maxine's lookalike job storm Sunday Mirror, 8 August 2004
  16. The Bichard Report, Home Office website retrieved 21 February 2009

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