Parents 'won't know how girls died'

The parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman will probably never know how their daughters died.

Ian Huntley's account of Holly drowning after falling into his bath and Jessica losing consciousness when he tried to silence her screams was never accepted by the prosecution.

But the lack of forensic evidence in his house, or from the girls' severely decomposed bodies, meant no definitive version of how or even where the 10-year-olds died could ever be put forward.

What is certain is that events inside 5 College Close that Sunday changed the course of two families' lives forever.

Jessica's father Leslie Chapman, now 52, was due to start work at a new engineering job on Monday August 5, the day after his daughter and her friend went missing.

It was a job he would not be able to begin for months.

Meanwhile his wife Sharon, 44, went back to work at St Andrew's primary school in Soham, where Huntley's girlfriend Maxine Carr used to work in Holly and Jessica's class.

It can only be imagined how Mrs Chapman feels as she walks the school corridors where the youngsters once played.

The strain of the last 16 months has been clear to see on the faces of all four parents as they attended the court case, missing only a few days of the trial.

Nicola Wells, 36, stayed away when Holly's older brother Oliver turned 14 earlier this month, but they were an almost constant presence in the courtroom, and a reminder of the true horror of Huntley and Carr's crimes.

They bore all the evidence with dignity and restraint, listening intently as Huntley gave his account of how the friends died.

Kevin Wells, 40, even heard descriptions of how Huntley approached him to say he hoped the girls returned safely.

The father-of-two sat unflinching as Huntley called him "Kev", and Carr described his daughter as "an angel", "a doll", and "the kind of daughter I would like to have".

The families' only request has been to try to protect the privacy of their surviving children on the days they chose to attend court, asking that Jessica's sisters Rebecca and AlChapman, now 18 and 15, should not be photographed.

That same dignity and determination got them through the many news conferences they undertook during the hunt for their daughters.

They were eloquent in their pleas, and on the days when they sat almost mute with despair their silence said enough.

Howard Gilbert, head teacher of Soham Village College, said Holly and Jessica's "inspirational" families had pulled Soham through its nightmare.

Red-yed from tears and lack of sleep, all four must have constantly replayed the events of Sunday August 4 in their minds.

Mr Wells, who runs a cleaning business, later summed up what they had endured. He said they had experienced every emotion.

"This crime had been committed against my daughter and her fiend and the initial disbelief of it all turned to a great deal of anger.

"This was coupled with feelings of frustration and helplessness for Holly and really just finding it just so hard to comprehend.

"They were dark, dark days."

The Chapmans had just returned from a family holiday in Minorca, and photographs from the trip show them tanned and laughing into the camera lens, relaxed and appy to spend time together.

On her return Jessica was given bile phone back so she could send text messages to Holly, and keep in constant contact with her parents when she was away from home.

A tomboy and used to the comparative independence that life in a small, "safe" town can afford, she walked the few hundred yards to Holly's house on that Sunday morning, pausing to tell her older sister Rebecca where she was going.

Mr and Mrs Chapman had gone to Tesco to do the weekly shop, so safety-conscious Rebecca made sure her baby sister had her mobile with her, in case she needed to ring home.

Jessica did ring home that day, to ask if she could stay for the barbecue at the Wells house, and was told she could stay but that she must call again when she was ready to come home, so that her father could come and pick her up.

Once at Holly's house, the pair played together all d either with a school friend or on a computer.

Mrs Wells, a legal secretary, said there was a 20-minute period in the afternoon when she thought the youngsters might have gone out to buy sweets, but she knew they were together.

And when they got back and changed into matching Manchester United shirts, Holly pestered her mother to take their photograph, showing them together and smiling.

It was to be the final photograph of either girl, and the picture which showed the moment - complete with the time it was taken - when life for both their families was to change forever.

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