Soham murders: Reporter remembers interview with Ian Huntley that sparked his suspicions

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Matthew Hudson

A local journalist who interviewed Soham murderer Ian Huntley has recalled the moment he became suspicious of him - and reported his concerns to police.

Twenty years ago, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells left a family barbecue to buy sweets in their town in Cambridgeshire. They never returned home.

Former caretaker Huntley killed the 10-year-olds then dumped their bodies in a ditch near an airbase at Mildenhall in Suffolk. The 48-year-old is currently serving a life sentence for their murders.

His then-girlfriend Maxine Carr was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in 2003 after being found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice for giving him a false alibi.

Press Association journalist Brian Farmer has been reporting for decades but the tragedy that unfolded in 2002 still stands out in his memory - along with the moment he became suspicious of the man who turned out to be a double killer.

The search for Holly and Jessica turned into one of the biggest murder investigations the country had ever seen. Credit: Family photo

In the days following the girls' disappearance, when no one knew what had happened, Mr Farmer decided to search out the caretaker of the middle school - Ian Huntley.

"He seemed to have been the last man to have seen them," he told ITV News Anglia. "So you always have to have in your mind that possibly, probably the last man to have seen them is the culprit."At the time, many people in Soham thought the girls had gone off with a stranger.

When Mr Farmer asked Huntley if they were the kind of children who might do that, the caretaker said that Holly might but Jessica would put up a fight."I do remember thinking, 'that's very strange, how could he possibly know?'," said Mr Farmer.

"He's the caretaker of a school they don't go to. I think he'd said that he'd seen them around but how can anyone know how two girls will react like that unless they know them very well?"

Press Association reporter Brian Farmer, left, in discussion with ITV News Anglia's Matthew Hudson. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Huntley also told Mr Farmer he had spoken to the girls on the day they disappeared. chatting to them as he washed his pet dog Sadie."What puzzled me was not what they'd said but what they hadn't said," the reporter recalled.

"What they didn't seem to have mentioned was the dog. I didn't think there was a child of that age in the world who on a sunny August afternoon would come across a man washing a dog with soap and water who wouldn't have mentioned the dog."Mr Farmer reported his suspicions to the police. He later gave evidence at the Old Bailey trial.

Maxine Carr gave her then-boyfriend a false alibi, and was later sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail. Credit: PA

Debbie Davies, then deputy editor of the Ely Standard, recalled distributing posters made by the newspaper around Soham four days after the girls were last seen.

The posters had a photo of Holly and Jessica wearing their Manchester United shirts, taken on the day they disappeared.

Miss Davies, 62, said she knocked on the door of the home shared by Huntley and Carr, with Carr answering the door and taking a poster, then promptly putting it up in their front window.

She said she felt “sick” when it later emerged that, at the time Carr displayed the poster, Huntley had already murdered the girls.

“It’s only obviously since then that I’ve thought about the horrors of what went on in that house and the poster was there and the Manchester United T-shirts, I believe, were already in their bin outside – that’s where they were found later.

“A horrible moment that was only revealed in the course of time."

She said she was surprised that Huntley never took the picture down.

“The fact [was] the girls were laying in a shallow grave, and he knew that, and every time he saw that poster he knew what had happened.

“That still now is difficult for me to wrestle with, and I can never understand what was going on in his head.

“I’m just surprised he never did go and take the poster down.”

ITV News Anglia reporter Matthew Hudson explains how criminal record checks and the safeguarding of children were tightened following the Bichard Inquiry sparked by the Soham murders

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