Editor Debbie Davies writes about her experience in Soham 20 years ago

An Ely Standard photographer captured Huntley in his car with the missing poster in the background.

An Ely Standard photographer captured this image of Huntley in his car with the missing poster in the background. - Credit: ELY STANDARD

On the morning of August 5 2002, I walked into the tiny newsroom on the first floor of the Ely Standard office and my editor told me that two 10-year-old girls had gone missing in Soham and there had been search parties out overnight.

Social media was less sophisticated 20 years ago, so I wouldn't have seen a Tweet or an online alert and in those first hours, I honestly believed the girls would be found. I attended several press conferences over the following days and it began to feel surreal.  

There were police, journalists, photographers and camera crews everywhere, and although I was a seasoned and experienced reporter, I was struggling to comprehend the ever-increasing likelihood that something dark and sinister had taken place in this quiet part of the newspaper's patch.

At the time, I was the deputy editor of the Ely and Soham Standard and once that week's newspaper went to press, on the Wednesday (August 7), I decided to make some posters appealing for information. We had no reward money to offer (some of the national newspapers were offering huge sums), but I felt it was important that the local newspaper was visible in the community and supportive.

I used the photograph of the girls in their Man Utd shirts and wrote a few words appealing for information. I then stood at the office photocopier for half an hour while they printed. 

I drove into Soham walked around and put posters in shops, pubs and businesses and then walked around to Soham Village College. The home of Ian Huntley who was the caretaker at Soham Village College, and Maxine Carr, was, at that time, (it was later bulldozed) in the grounds of the college. It was a prime location with lots of people passing through so I decided to ask the couple if they would put a poster in their window for me.

I knocked on the door and Maxine Carr answered. I knew she had been a teaching assistant at the girls' school, so I asked her for an interview. She refused and said she was "fed up with all this" (journalists knocking at the door, I assumed) but she did agree to take a poster and, she had, in fact, stuck it up in the window by the time I reached the end of the garden path.

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It was only later that I was able to reflect on the true horror of that moment in time. When Carr took that poster from me, Huntley had already murdered the girls and their bodies were laying in a shallow grave a few miles away. The burnt Manchester United shirts, I believe, were already in the bin outside their home where they were discovered days later during a police search.

I have always asked myself why Huntley never took the poster down. Every time he came in and out of the house, the poster would have been staring back at him from the window. It’s not about the poster – it’s that image of the girls in their distinctive red football shirts. The same image he would have seen that evening as the girls came walking towards him. Surely an image that served to remind him of a moment in time when he could have taken a different path?

Maybe it was all part of the cover-up. Huntley and Carr were attempting to present themselves as upstanding and helpful members of the community and the poster helped to reaffirmed that status for them.  

But on that sunny August afternoon, while there was still a glimmer of hope that the girls would be found safe, I walked back down the path, turned around and looked at the poster in the window and felt pleased that I was able to do something useful, however small, that might help. 

It’s one of those moments in my life - an indelible image - the girls' faces, happy and smiling, staring out from the poster attached to the window of that house where unimaginable horror took place and two little girls met their deaths at the hands of a monster.

At this point, hope of a positive outcome was fading, but the world was holding its breath, hoping and praying there might be a explanation and the girls would be found.

But Ian Huntley knew there was no hope. He knew every time he looked at that poster there was no hope and he knew every time he saw the pain etched on the faces of Kevin and Nicola Wells and Leslie and Sharon Chapman that hope had always been futile.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing on August 4 2002. Ian Huntley, the 48-year-old former school caretaker of Soham Village College, is serving a life sentence for the murder of the girls, whose bodies were found near an airbase at Mildenhall in Suffolk after a two-week hunt. 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 Huntley a false alibi.