Town still grieves for 'two smashing girls'

The trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr has not provided all the answers the town of Soham was looking for, according to the head of the primary school attended by Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Geoff Fisher, head of St Andrew's Primary, said Soham wanted justice and people wanted to know why the girls were killed.

"I think that deep down people want to know what went on in there (Huntley's house)," said Mr Fisher, who lives in Soham and has been a headteacher in the town for more than 20 years.

"People want to see justice done. We all want to see justice done. We were hoping to get some answers. We haven't got all those answers."

Community spirit showed through

Mr Fisher and Howard Gilbert, head at Soham Community College, said community spirit and the girls' "inspirational" families had pulled Soham through its nightmare.

"The families have been simply inspirational. It has been so important to us, the way they have maintained the dignity and courage," said Mr Gilbert.

He said children at the school had been very resilient.

"As a school we felt that the best thing we could do was to keep routines going and for some of the staff that has been an amazingly difficult thing to do.

"People have been incredibly protective of each other. This amazing sense of community. That is what really has kept us going and I think that

has been reflected throughout the town.

"It has been quite remarkable, I think."

Jessica's mother Sharon was a learning support assistant at St Andrew's when her daughter was killed.

She returned to work for the start of the autumn term last year and has carried on working at the school since.

"Sharon has been amazing," said Mr Fisher. "I don't know how she did it, to be honest. But she is incredible. Absolutely incredible."

Mr Fisher said he and his staff had kept the memories of "two smashing girls" at the forefront of their minds as they tried to carry on as normal in the wake of the murders.

"I have had incredible support from my family.

Incredible support from the staff at the school and from other parts of the community because I live in Soham.

Of Holly and Jessica, Mr Fisher said: "It is trying to look at the contribution they made in the time they were with us and how they will always be remembered by their friends and by everyone who knew them. They were smashing girls."

Praise for families

And he praised both girls' families, saying: "The way that Holly and Jessica's families have coped has been a strength to everyone.

"I think I have been surprised and impressed by the way the whole community has coped.

"Last September we didn't quite know what was coming in the year ahead. The amazing thing is we are here now talking to you. I think the resilience of people has been quite remarkable.

"The resilience of the children. The way they have tried to put behind them all their anxieties and all their sorrows to make sure the school has gone on."

Mr Fisher said there was a veneer of normality in the town.

"If you came into our school as an outsider, you would say there would be no difference," he said.

"All through the year we have tried to make it as normal as possible. But certainly beneath the surface, obviously there is that difference amongst all the people.

"It's brought people very close together - I think the support people give each other has been noticeable.

"We have always been a supportive staff but this year it's been more so...

"People have been prepared to talk about their own feelings, which is what we have tried to encourage."

Mr Fisher continued: "But on the whole if you came to our staff room you would find all the normal things that we talk about, we would be talking about.

"We have always had a lot of laughs in our staff room and it's still there. That's the most important thing.

"I think perhaps one of the first signs of normality was the first time I had to tell somebody off in the first few days.

"It's always been a danger, I think, in a situation like this that you tread too carefully, that you don't treat pupils in the way you would normally treat them.

"But we have tried to do that this year - to treat the pupils the way we would normally treat them."

The headteacher said there was an increased sensitivity in the close-knit community since the murders, adding: "There will be times when certain things might be said, certain things might be mentioned, certain things might happen and the reaction you get will be different now.

"More sensitive, in that sense. It's business as usual but beneath the surface there is a sensitivity that can be brought to the surface very quickly."

Post from wellwishers

Mr Fisher said the school had been inundated with post from wellwishers, mostly headteachers and teachers.

"All sorts of gifts and donations. People just wanted to make a gesture. Absolutely incredible," he said.

Counsellors had been made available to the schools in September but no-one rushed to use them, said Mr Fisher.

"Insofar as when we came back in September there wasn't this great rush for counselling and school got back to normal very quickly.

"But we had to be aware that counselling could be needed two months down the line, six months down the line or even a year and beyond.

"So we had to be aware of that need to continue to monitor."

Mr Gilbert said his school had not been affected academically, adding he had been "very impressed"

with his pupils.

"They were very mature. They very quickly established their routine. Staff were very professional."

He continued: "We had an army of counsellors ready in September but no-one asked for them - not one.

"And the support from wider afield. The county council has been superb. They have really been crucial for us over the last year.

"The messages of support and just acts of kindness through the year have been very noticeable. We still get cards every week."

Frank Murphy, senior educational psychologist with Cambridgeshire County Council, who has been co-ordinating the monitoring of the psychological effects on children in Soham, said the story was far from over.

Dealing with events

"We are still very much dealing with the events of the last (16) months and we will continue to do so. It's very difficult to generalise about people's responses."

Psychologists working in Soham have taken advice from experts who have worked with relatives and friends of other murdered children in Britain and the United States.

But Mr Murphy said the Soham case contained unique elements.

"Certainly, one of the things we have been aware of is the wide spectrum of reactions. Some staff members, some parents, some pupils have been more profoundly affected than others," he said.

"There may well be some individuals who will need support over long periods of time in the future."

Soham vicar, the Rev Tim Alban Jones, who was awarded an MBE for his work in the wake of the killings, said: "The intensity of media coverage that last summer's tragedy generated has guaranteed that people have not forgotten Holly and Jessica and they have not forgotten the town of Soham."

Mr Alban Jones said the scars still ran deep in the town, adding: "In some cases, those scars are still raw.

"We are all very aware that the process of healing is not over yet."

The vicar continued: "Some people have asked me what is the thing that strikes me most when looking back.

"Throughout the whole year we have witnessed countless deeds of kindness. There have been innumerable people who have responded with outstanding compassion, love and generous goodwill.

"All these many deeds of kindness and thoughtfulness show that love is stronger than hatred. Ultimately, goodness is stronger than evil."

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