An ordinary summer's day that ended in twin tragedy

Shaking, Ian Huntley stared silently at a distant point for an apparent eternity as every face turned expectantly towards him. Eventually, he said: "I wish I could turn back the clock." He was ashamed, he admitted.

A packed Old Bailey court listened intently as he described what had been an ordinary summer's day, Sunday, 4 August, 2002. He had taken his dog for a walk, popped in to get a video.

And then Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman died in his bathroom; he loaded their bodies into his car, cut off their clothes and set light to them after pouring petrol on them.

He returned home to cover his tracks; he had a few cigarettes and bathed his german shepherd, Sadie. Then he took the dog for a stroll.

Throughout the night, he mingled with searchers in Soham, Cambridgeshire, and heard them call out the names of the two school friends he had just dumped in an isolated ditch. In the ensuing days, he said, he had "fallen to pieces inside" and contemplated committing suicide.

When his memory finally began to return three months ago, he had been determined to get to the trial, he claimed. His aim? To "tell Holly and Jessica's parents what really happened", he said.

The former caretaker explained he yearned to turn back time. He said: "I wish I could do things differently. I just wish none of this had ever happened." He continued, tearfully: "I am sorry for what has happened and I am ashamed. I accept that I am responsible for the deaths of Holly and Jessica and there is nothing I can do about it now. I sincerely wish there was." With the girls' families sitting just feet away, he turned infrequently to look at his partner Maxine Carr in the dock. While he had been desperate to tell her what happened that night, he insisted the 26-year-old ­ who denies two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice ­ never knew the truth.

From the moment Mr Huntley ­ clad in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie ­ entered the witness box, he cut a nervous figure, offering at times inaudible or monosyllabic responses to simple questions. Sipping frequently from a glass of water, he often asked for questions to be repeated.

His quiet voice dropped further as he began to describe how Holly and Jessica had turned up outside his house while he was cleaning his dog. They had, he explained as he had so many times to police and journalists during the 13-day search, asked after Miss Carr.

They had not, as he once claimed, wandered off because he noticed that Holly had a nosebleed, but had instead sat them on the edge of his car boot. "I said plonk your bums on there and I will go and get some tissue," he said.

It took nearly an hour of questioning for Mr Huntley to retell the details of how Holly and Jessica, two girls whose insistence on referring to "Miss Carr" rather than Maxine had amused him, died in his bathroom minutes later.

The court was painted a scene of Holly, her nose still bleeding according to the caretaker, sitting at one end of the bath close to a sink while Jessica waited at the other end and Mr Huntley methodically tore lengths of toilet roll which he ran under cold water, a tip he said he had gained from lessons in first aid.

Then, in the stark white bathroom of 5 College Close with its "linoleum wood effect flooring", a green bath mat and a pair of weighing scales, Mr Huntley described the train of events which led to him facing a double murder charge.

The girls had first sat in the living room and then moved upstairs to the bathroom after Holly's nosebleed failed to cease. At one point she stopped briefly in the bedroom where a single drop of blood fell on to the bedding.

Mr Huntley said: "I went to pass Holly some more tissue. And as I ­ I am not really sure how it happened ­ I sort of turned, slipped, lost my footing. I sort of went forward in the direction of Holly."

Asked by his defence barrister, Stephen Coward QC, whether he remembered seeing the schoolgirl slipping backwards or had only assumed that, Mr Huntley said he had a clear recollection of Holly falling into the bath.

The next thing he became aware of was Jessica. Mr Huntley said: "She was screaming and shouting 'You pushed her', over and over."

Mr Huntley said that he had little or no recollection of his precise thoughts as Holly lay in the bath and her friend stood screaming, saying only that he suddenly found himself incapable of saving the schoolgirl.

He then turned to Jessica. "I put my hand over her mouth. ... I don't know if I used the other to restrain her. All I can say is that I clearly remember one hand."

Asked by Mr Coward why he had done so, Mr Huntley added: "I was trying to stop her from screaming so that I could think."

After Jessica had fallen to the floor, the caretaker said he concentrated on his "main priority" of finally pulling Holly from the bath before checking both of the children's bodies for a pulse. Mr Huntley described how he also put his cheek to Jessica's mouth to check for her breathing. He said: "I was never that hot at checking for pulses when I was learning first aid."

In the minutes after the girl's deaths, the caretaker described how he sat on the landing, looking at their bodies and was physically sick.

The court heard that the caretaker then carried the bodies of Holly and Jessica to the boot of his Ford Fiesta while it was still daylight, checking only to ensure that no one was passing the house before carrying them out, uncovered by any blanket or material.

He then drove "aimlessly" and ended up in the Suffolk village of Lakenheath before stopping in the failing light at a forest track close to an American air base where he selected a ditch "without too much vegetation" to dispose of the girls' bodies.

Asked why he had brought a can of petrol, along with two black bin liners, Mr Huntley's response was blunt. He said: "To destroy any evidence."

When asked by Mr Coward how long his attempt to cremate the bodies lasted, Mr Huntley said: "I don't know. I know it flared up. I drove away as quick as I could."

At times, his responses were slow; at others swift. Asked whether he had touched either of the girls or tried to in any sexual way, he replied: "No, not at all."

He had become deeply depressed during the following days, crying all the time, but never touched the 54 anti- depressant tablets prescribed by his doctor because he was saving them for an overdose.

"It has been very difficult to live with what happened. I couldn't get the words out to tell anybody. You could probably call me a coward. That was a way out. Every time I looked at Maxine I just couldn't [commit suicide]," he explained.

He told the court he was too "frightened" to tell the truth. The experience of being accused of rape five years earlier and being incarcerated until CCTV evidence led to his acquittal, had been terrible. "I lost my daughter, I lost my home and I lost my job," he said.

When he returned to Woodhill Prison from hospital, he decided to stop struggling to retrieve his memory, he said. Slowly the "jigsaw" of events began to fall into place.

Mr Huntley added: "I made my mum and dad a promise that I would get myself through to the trial and tell Holly and Jessica's parents what actually happened."

The trial continues today.

THE FATAL EVENING

The evening Holly and Jessica died, according to Ian Huntley:

  • Huntley's German shepherd returned from a wander at about 6pm. He put her in a downstairs toilet and went upstairs to run a bath
  • He went outside to collect a dog brush from the boot of his car
  • He saw Holly and Jessica and discussed why "Miss Carr" had not got a job she applied for at the school
  • He noticed blood under Holly's nose and went upstairs to the bathroom for tissues
  • It was threatening to rain so he invited them inside. They went into the bathroom to treat Holly's nosebleed
  • He asked the girls to sit on the edge of the bath, with water in it for cleaning the dog, while he filled the sink
  • Jessica asked if she could use the toilet so he and Holly went into the main bedroom
  • He slipped and fell in the direction of Holly and she fell backwards
  • Jessica accused him of pushing Holly into the bath. He "just froze". He put his hand over Jessica's mouth to stop her screaming. When he let go she fell on the floor
  • He pulled Holly out of the bath and failed to find a pulse.
  • He vomited
  • After pocketing her mobile, he took Jessica then Holly downstairs
  • He put the girls in the boot of his car and took a red petrol can to destroy the evidence
  • He drove down tracks leading off Wangford Road to Common Drove at about 9pm
  • He placed the girls at the edge of a steep ditch so that they rolled down
  • He cut their clothes off with scissors and doused their bodies with petrol then he drove home, arriving at 10pm
  • He set fire to the girls' clothes in a bin outside the hangar at the school and went home
  • He then took the dog for a walk. On the way he was spotted a man who asked him if he had seen two girls. He returned and gave the dog a bath