Holly and Jessica died from suffocation, Old Bailey jury told

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman died from suffocation, the trial into their murders was told yesterday.

As the chief prosecution counsel in the murder trial concluded his opening address at the Old Bailey yesterday, he told the court that sexual assault of the girls by their alleged killer, Ian Huntley, could not be ruled out. Richard Latham QC saidthe Crown did not accept that the deaths of the 10-year-old girls could possibly have been an accident or self-defence.

"These were not two little babies. They were two fit 10-year-old girls. Ten-year-old girls do not tend to drop dead."

The jury of seven women and five men were told how the girls' decomposed bodies were found in an isolated spot in Suffolk 13 days after their disappearance from Soham, Cambridgeshire, on 4 August 2002 had led to one of the biggest missing persons hunts in recent history.

Their bodies, charred after an attempt to set fire to them, would have "wholly disappeared" if they had not been found then, Mr Latham said.

He revealed that Dr Nat Carey, the Home Office pathologist who examined the dead girls, found no significant damage to indicate they had been shot or stabbed. The prosecution told a packed court one at the Old Bailey asphyxia was the most likely cause of death.

While the 29-year-old former caretaker denies the double murder, Mr Latham insisted the forensic science evidence was mounting against him. Despite what the prosecution insist was a calculating attempt to cover his tracks, soil and pollen from where the bodies were found had been discovered on Mr Huntley's car and boots. Fibres from the girls' clothes, later found half-burnt, had also been found at his cottage in the grounds of Soham Community College and on his clothes. His hairs were found among their clothes.

The trial, which is expected to last until January, continues on Monday when the jury will visit Soham and retrace the girls' final known steps. The following day they are expected to visit the scene where the girls were found.

Maxine Carr, 26, the caretaker's former partner, denies two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.