The Soham Murders: The horrific real-life murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman which shocked the country

In 2002, two 10-year-old girls were murdered by their school caretaker Ian Huntley in Cambridgeshire and now, 20 years on, a three-part TV documentary is examining the case.

The first episode, Soham: The Murder of Holly & Jessica, will air on Wednesday, March, 9 on Channel 5 at 9pm and will explore the horrific case that saw two 10-year-old girls murdered by someone they trusted and how he tried to cover his tracks.

You can read more TV news here.

In August 2002, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells attended a family barbecue at Holly’s house and after the barbecue they left Holly’s home at around 6.15pm to buy sweets from the vending machine at their local sports centre.

The girls did not tell any adults or guests at the party they were leaving to buy sweets and at 8pm Holly’s mother, Nicola Wells, went to ask the girls to say goodbye to their guests and found Holly’s bedroom empty.

Nicola then phoned Jessica’s family to check they weren’t with them, and after searching for their daughters both parents reported their daughters as missing at 9.55pm.

A huge police search was launched immediately after with over 400 police officers assigned full-time to search for the girls and hundreds of local volunteers joined the search.

A photo that Nicola took of the girls, just hours before they went missing, of them both wearing retro Manchester United football club shirts was released to help the search.

Holly and Jessica photographed in the Manchester United shirts
(Image: PA)

The police questioned every registered sex offender in Cambridgeshire and the county bordering couny of Lincolnshire and later CCTV footage of the girls at the sports centre was released.

During the search and investigation numerous eyewitnesses came forward to claim they had seen the girls before their disappearance, including their killer Ian Huntley.

Soham murderer Ian Huntley

School caretaker Huntley came forward to claim he had seen the girls just before their disappearance, saying he had spoken to them on his doorstep and they seemed “happy as Larry”.

The police were suspicious of his account and had his house searched by a single police officer and although no evidence was found the police officer noticed how clean the house was and how agitated Huntley was.

Thirteen days after the girls were reported missing their bodies were found by gamekeeper Keith Pryer in an irrigation ditch close to a pheasant pen near RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Holly and Jessica’s bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and Huntley had attempted to burn the bodies. The bodies were identified to be the girls by DNA testing.

A public memorial service at Ely Cathedral was held for the girls and was attended by 2,000 people and an inquest deemed the most likely cause of death to be asphyxia.

Throughout the investigation to find the girls and then to find their killer Huntley made many TV appearances, including on Sky News and BBC News Look East, speaking about the shock in the community and what it was like to be the last person to see them alive.

He became the unofficial spokesman for the community and was sometimes joined on TV by his partner Maxine Carr who was Holly and Jessica’s teaching assistant.

Maxine Carr is photographed following her arrest in August 2002
(Image: Cambridgeshire Police via Getty Images)

During one of the TV appearances Carr referred to the girls in the past tense and as the investigation continued Huntley began to lose weight and struggled to sleep.

Huntley and Carr were questioned by the police and from his TV appearances people came forward to the police saying that he had been previously accused of rape.

Carr lied during the investigation and told the police she was at home with Huntley when Holly and Jessica disappeared when she in fact was not there.

Another search of Huntley’s house and grounds of Soham Village College, where Huntley worked as a caretaker, found items of clothing that the girls were wearing, including the Manchester United shirts.

After finding the clothes both Huntley and Carr were arrested and after this Huntley refused to answer any questions and the police had to refer him to have a psychological evaluation.

Carr however quickly confessed that she had given Huntley a false alibi, saying that Huntley had told her the girls had come into their house as Holly had a nosebleed.

Huntley told Carr that Jessica had sat on the bed as he helped Holly with the nosebleed and that he needed her to lie for him as he was worried that his history of being accused of rapes would mean that he would be falsely accused again.

Once told of the evidence against Huntley, Carr began to cry and said that she didn’t believe he had murdered the girls and defended his innocence throughout the investigation.

Huntley was charged with two accounts of murder and Carr was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and was later charged with two counts of assisting an offender.

During the trial, Huntley claimed the deaths were accidental, saying that the girls had died in his house as the girls entered his bathroom to stop Holly’s nosebleed and he slipped and knocked Holly into his bath full of water from cleaning his dog.

He claimed to have “panicked and froze” and Holly drowned and then claimed Jessica started screaming “You pushed her!” and that he accidentally suffocated her while attempting to stifle her screams.

Huntley was found guilty and displayed no show of emotion when this was announced in court, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Carr was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and found not guilty of assisting an offender and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. She has since been given lifelong anonymity.

After Huntley’s sentencing it was released to the public that he had previously been charged with burglary, had had sexual relationships with girls aged 13 and 15, had been arrested on suspicion of rape, and had numerous sexual assault or rape allegations against him.

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