'He knew what he was doing. He was acting rationally, so far as the killer of two 10 year-old girls can be rational'

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A jury at the Old Bailey was told yesterday of the final minutes of the lives of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - and the deceit of their "calculating and manipulative" alleged killer Ian Huntley and his "cold blooded" former girlfriend Maxine Carr.

In the oak-panelled court, Mr Huntley was revealed as the man who dumped the schoolgirls' bodies after they died in his house in the Cambridgeshire town of Soham shortly after 6.30pm on 4 August 2002.

In calm measured tones that belied the drama of the revelation, Richard Latham, for the prosecution, told a packed Court Number One that Mr Huntley, 29, will admit to the court that the girls had lost their lives after entering his cottage.

Mr Latham said it was also unlikely the defence would deny that Mr Huntley took the bodies to the spot where they were found 13 days later.

The QC told the seven women and five men of the jury that he intended to prove that there was a deliberate murder of the two, despite Mr Huntley's claim to the contrary.

On the day of their deaths, Holly and Jessica, who were dressed in the Manchester United shirts so distinctive that a passing motorist described them as "two little Beckhams", "fell into the hands" of their killer, the court was told. They were probably dead within minutes or hours of entering Mr Huntley's house, the prosecution claimed. Yet Mr Huntley, knowing full well what he had done, had calmly developed a cover story, it is contended.

Mr Latham said: "The prosecution case is that the two girls fell into the hands of Mr Huntley within a short time of leaving home. Thereafter, within a matter of minutes or hours, for some reason known only to himself he chose to murder them both ... He then hid them in such a way he anticipated they would never be found. In that objective he was very nearly successful," he added.

Mr Latham said he would invite the jury to conclude that Mr Huntley was a "calculating and manipulative individual who knew precisely what he was up to. He was trying to get away with murder".

While his lawyers had indicated Mr Huntley was not disputing the fact the girls died within a short time of entering his home, Mr Latham said the focus of the trial would be to establish whether the deaths amounted to murder.

The jury was shown two fuzzy CCTV images of Holly and Jessica walking arm in arm across giant plasma screens and a stark silence fell across the courtroom. The 30-second film of the two girls appearing "perfectly normal" as they skipped across puddles on their way to buy sweets was captured on film just minutes or hours before they died.

Mr Latham said Jessica, having just returned from holiday in Minorca, had turned up at Holly's home with a necklace as a present. Having played on the family computer, they changed into matching football shirts and joined the Wells family and their guests for a barbecue. After a while, They went upstairs - their footsteps on the floorboards the last memory Kevin and Nicola Wells have of their daughter and her friend, the court heard.

On the newly installed, screens dotted across the antique splendour of Court One the now famous photograph taken just an hour before they wandered out of the house flashed up - a gash of vivid red amid the sombre setting.

At 6.15pm, the girls had wandered off into Soham, a place "no doubt they felt secure and confident ... surrounded by faces they knew".

The girls were classmates at St Andrew's primary school and lived just ten minutes apart. They were described as "sensible and reliable" by their teacher Joy Pederson. .

In a pointed moment, Mr Latham said Holly had particularly liked the temporary classroom assistant - Maxine Carr. The jury then saw a copy of the card Holly had made for Miss Carr who had failed to get a full time job at the school just months earlier.

In a quiet town, on a quiet Sunday at a quiet part of the day, Mr Latham said, the two girls were striking figures in their matching attire.

As they went through central Soham, many people spotted them before they were caught on a CCTV camera at 18.28, outside the sports centre. Three minutes later, they were seen wandering near Soham Village College but, by the time another driver past the same spot near Mr Huntley's house at 18.39, they had vanished.

Telling the jury they would be taken to the scene of the disappearance, Mr Latham said: "There will be no dispute about their route. You will be walking it. It is not a long walk."

The court heard that Mr Huntley, who arrived at Soham Village College as its £15,000-a-year "site supervisor" in November 2001, methodically plotted to cover his tracks after he had killed the girls at 5 College Close, the secluded house that came with his job.

When searches of Soham began in the early hours of 5 August, police spotted the aloof figure of the caretaker hanging in the background at a "rendezvous" point close to the college. Mr Latham said a woman police sergeant co-ordinating the search noticed how Mr Huntley stood out despite his apparent efforts to melt into the background: "She said he smelt of soap and aftershave. She formed the impression of someone who had just stepped out of the shower. At that stage, he didn't appear to be taking any active part in the searching."

When he did search around the river close to his home, Mr Huntley did so in a "relaxed" manner without urgency, the jury heard. He stood close to a police control unit where he could hear messages about the state of the investigation.

Mr Latham said it was a tactic that was to be repeated by Mr Huntley when police and journalists descended on Soham in the next fortnight: "This, we suggest, was the feature of his behaviour - to want to know what is going on and who knows what."

The court was told there could be no suggestion the caretaker was not in full control of his actions from the moment Holly and Jessica lost their lives, devising an alibi with his girlfriend who was allegedly three-hours' car journey away at the time Mr Huntley said she was in Soham with him.

Mr Latham said that Mr Huntley's lawyers were expecting to admit he had been the last person to see them.

Mr Latham said: "We assert that after the deaths, Mr Huntley knew what he was doing. He could remember. He could understand. He was, in so far as anyone who can kill two 10-year-old girls can be, rational. He was acting rationally."

A four-hour window from the last sighting of Mr Huntley, as he walked to his home at 6.15pm, until he was spotted walking his German Shepherd, Sadie, at about 10.35pm, existed in which he had driven in his red Ford Fiesta to dump the bodies in woodland beside an American airbase at RAF Lakenheath, the court heard.

From the moment of his return, the caretaker went out of his way to be helpful when residents and police began to carry out the first of many days of searches for the children.

Shortly after 11pm, Huntley came across a police dog handler who he let into an outbuilding on the school grounds but made no mention of the girls.

It was only at 11.30pm - nearly four hours after the parents of Holly and Jessica had realised they were missing - that the caretaker, a mug in his hand, told two firemen he had seen "two girls in red tops, one with brown and the other with blonde hair" passing by shortly after 6pm.

It was not until the early hours of the next morning that he was forced to report the sighting to police after he mentioned it to a friend of the Chapman family, the court was told.

Mr Latham said to the jury that the location of mobile phones would be a vital aspect of the case. It would prove, he said, that Miss Carr, despite her denials until the point of arrest, was not with Mr Huntley in Soham that night but more than a 100 miles away visiting her mother in Grimsby. Together, they devised his cover story, Mr Latham alleged.

"Her dishonest and deceptive behaviour was not an isolated misjudgement on the spur of the moment. It was a convincing, cold-blooded course of conduct involving repeated lies throughout the entire period of the disappearance of the girls," said Mr Latham.

Mr Huntley, denies two counts of murder. Miss Carr, 26, denies two counts of assisting an offender and one charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

THE CHARGES

Count One - Ian Huntley is alone charged with murder. "The particulars are that on a day between August 3, 2002, and August 18, 2002, he murdered Jessica Aimee Chapman." [left]

Count Two - Ian Huntley is alone charged with murder. " ... on a day between August 3, 2002, and August 18, 2002, he murdered Holly Marie Wells." [right]

Count Three - Maxine Carr is charged with assisting an offender. "Ian Huntley having committed an arrestable offence, namely the murder of Jessica Chapman, Maxine Carr, between August 3, 2002, and August 18, 2002, knowing or believing the said Ian Huntley had committed the said offence, ... she provided false accounts of her whereabouts for Ian Huntley on August 4, 2002, and August 5, 2002, with intent to impede the prosecution of Ian Huntley."

Count Four - Maxine Carr faces a similar charge of assisting an offender in the case of Holly Wells.

Count Five - Maxine Carr is charged with conspiracy to do acts tending or intended to pervert the course of public justice. "She conspired with Ian Huntley to do acts which had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice in that they agreed they would falsely maintain to police that the said Maxine Carr was in Soham in Cambridgeshire on August 4, 2002, and on August 5, 2002, and therefore they were able to corroborate the account of the said Ian Huntley."