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 was to concede all the established facts, i.e. 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.
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.
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. The only one of these allegations that resulted in a charge was a rape, but 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.
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.”