The Soham murders were the murders by Ian Huntley of two ten-year-old girls (Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman) in Soham, a small town in Cambridgeshire, England, on August 4, 2002.
Huntley, who also used his mother's maiden name of Nixon, was the caretaker at the local secondary school, Soham Village College, at the time of the murders. He was then living with his girlfriend Maxine Carr, who was a teaching assistant at Holly and Jessica's school, St Andrew's Primary School.
Huntley's defence conceded that he disposed of the girls' bodies and that they were in his house when they died. However, he claimed that Holly Wells accidentally fell in the bath and drowned and that Jessica Chapman was then so distressed that he had to restrain her to stop her screaming, but accidentally did this so forcefully that she too died. This led him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, but the jury rejected his story and found him guilty of the murder of both girls.
Huntley was convicted on December 17, 2003 by two eleven-to-one majority jury verdicts, and on that day began serving two life sentences. The search for the two girls and the subsequent trial generated intense media interest and speculation, ensuring that the names and faces of Huntley and Carr became well-known across the United Kingdom and worldwide.
Carr, who received a three-and-a-half year prison sentence but had already served 16 months on remand, was released from custody on 17th May 2004 after serving half of her sentence. She was given a new identity and has since applied for lifelong police protection.
Huntley was 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. Had Huntley's trial continued into the new year then his minimum sentence would have been decided by the trial judge. Huntley is still waiting for his minimum sentence to be set. A period of around 30 years seems likely.
After the Trial
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. Only one of these allegations resulted in a charge was a rape, and that charge was dropped before it came to court. Huntley had also been charged with burglary, but he was not convicted. On the day of Huntley's conviction for the girls' murder, 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 the social services and the allegations above. 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.
On November 25, 2004, The Sun newspaper published details of a tape-recording they obtained of Ian Huntley admitting that he had lied in court. He was quoted as saying "I said that Jessica died in the bathroom. She didn't. She died in the living room. Everything happened as I said it did, apart from that." He said that he killed Jessica after she tried to flee once she had realised her friend had been killed elsewhere in the house.
Huntley also claimed that he couldn't live with the guilt of what he had done, and that he planned on committing suicide.
The Bichard Inquiry
The inquiry was announced on December 18 2003, and Sir Michael Bichard was appointed as the chair. 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 practises 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 Tuesday, January 13, 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. 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.
Huntley's girlfriend Maxine Carr, who provided a false alibi to police for Huntley, was convicted of perverting the course of justice. She had claimed to be with Huntley at the time of the murders but she was in fact in Grimsby. However, she was cleared on two counts of assisting an offender, reflecting the court's acceptance that Carr only lied to police to protect Huntley because she believed his claims of innocence. She was sentenced to three and a half years' imprisonment, although with credit for time served on remand since her arrest and remission, she is expected to be released in Spring 2004. During the trial she denounced Huntley as "that thing". Since the trial it has been revealed that Maxine Carr also provided an alibi for Ian Huntley in the previous rape charge mentioned below.
On May 10, 2004 Carr pled guilty to twenty counts of benefit fraud and of lying on job applications. She received a three-year community rehabilitation order for the offences, which had been uncovered as part of the murder inquiry.
The following day Carr was moved from Foston Hall Prison in Derbyshire to a secret location after documents relating to her release were stolen from a Home Office official's car. The papers were later discovered in Hampstead Heath. Prisons' Chief Martin Narey said despite this theft, the plans for her release on Friday had not been compromised. A 20-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the theft of the papers.
Maxine Carr was released on probation on 14 May 2004 after serving half of her sentence for conspiring to pervert the course of justice. After her release she was put under police protection after she received death threats. Although the police wish to take away the police protection eventually, Carr is adamant that they stay.
- BBC News report from the time of Huntley's arrest (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2205778.stm)
- BBC News report on Huntley's conviction (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3312551.stm)
- BBC News report on Blunkett's inquiry (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3320187.stm)
- BBC News report detailing previous allegations against Huntley (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3313501.stm)
- The Bichard Inquiry (http://www.bichardinquiry.org.uk/)