Murderer with sick mind who lived out his fantasies

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The Independent Online
Howard Hughes outlined his fantasy of raping and murdering a little girl 18 months before seven-year-old Sophie Hook was left for dead on a Welsh beach.

In a confession to Michael Guidi, himself a convicted sex offender, Hughes spoke of his desire to have sex with a girl and then kill her.

"He said he would strangle her or cut her throat," Mr Guidi told Chester Crown court, in a horrifying prediction of what was to come. "He said this over a period of time and on more than one occasion," said Mr Guidi, who was Hughes's friend since the age of 13, and his former lodger in Colwyn Bay, North Wales.

This was not the only warning sign. It took the jury more than an hour to view Hughes's extensive collection of pornographic pictures of naked or scantily-clad children. During a search of the home he shared with his mother in Yerburgh Avenue, police also found a collection of children's underwear in a stone wall in the garden.

Hughes was an unnerving presence, roaming the district on his mountain bike or with his Rottweiler, Bryn, at his side. Yet nothing could have prepared the small North Wales community for the day when he decided to turn his fantasy to reality.

On the summer's day on which Sophie was to die, Hughes had first approached a seven-year-old girl doing hand- stands in the park and asked her to go with him. She ran away, scared.

Sophie Hook was less fortunate. As she and her sister Jemma excitedly splashed naked in a paddling pool, the family was not to know that Hughes was already lurking nearby.

The Hooks had travelled from their home in Budworth, near Winsford, Cheshire, to visit Mrs Hook's sister, Fiona Jones, and her husband Danny, in Llandudno for cousin Luke Jones's ninth birthday.

As the celebrations drew to a close, the children were so enthusiastic about continuing the fun that the families agreed to allow them to camp out in a tent in the garden. There seemed no reason to worry.

But it was from the tent that Sophie was abducted. Stripped of her nightdress, she was raped, beaten about the head and strangled. One arm was broken, probably in an act of deliberate violence. She was dumped in the sea, apparently in an attempt to hide evidence.

Police arrested Hughes within hours. He maintained his innocence, despite having been spotted carrying a sack with a limb hanging out of it.

Only when his father visited him at the police station did he break down and confess: "Dad, I did it ...You don't know what it is like to be sexually frustrated; you don't know what it is."

Hughes went on, his father said, to tell unprompted the story of what happened. He was to deny it all in court. "I didn't do it," he shouted, even as he was led away to start his sentence.

The Hook family were left baffled and numbed. Jemma Hook, two years older than her sister, said that she wanted to join Sophie in heaven. The girls' parents said they could not understand how anyone could be so evil.

Today Julie Hook, 35, and her husband Christopher, 38, an advertising executive, are expected to speak publicly about their traumatic 12 months.

They have shown dignity and courage throughout, according to the policewoman who has supported them, Detective Chief Inspector Lorraine Johnson. "This is not the end for them," she said yesterday. "They will carry this cross for the rest of their lives."