Huntley in court to face trial for Soham murders

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The Independent Online

Shortly after 10am tomorrow, in court one of the Old Bailey in London, Richard Latham QC will begin the prosecution of Ian Huntley for the killing of the two Soham girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Also in the dock, Huntley's former fiancée, Maxine Carr, will be accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The case is expected to involve 170 witnesses and last three months. But it is not its predicted length that makes it remarkable so much as the intense interest it has aroused. Such has been the clamour by the press to attend the trial that court staff have had to set up an overspill room, complete with video link; the authors of several putative books on the case will be in attendance, and TV coverage is expected to be unprecedented.

Their collective gaze will be fixed upon Huntley, the 29-year-old former caretaker at Soham Village College, who denies murdering the two girls in August last year. The man responsible for proving the case against him is Mr Latham, who has specialised in complex murder and fraud trials. Defending Huntley will be Stephen Coward QC, a veteran barrister who defended the man accused of murdering Oxford student Rachel McLean.

Carr, accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of assisting an offender, will be represented by Michael Hubbard QC. Both he and Mr Latham share the unusual experience of having once been propositioned in mid-case by jurors who sent them a note or a bottle of champagne. Both reported the matter. The judge is Mr Justice Moses, who was in charge of the trial of former MI5 officer David Shayler, and who has never been shy to criticise the media if he felt they had overstepped the boundaries.

At the centre of it all will be the two victims, Holly and Jessica, whose faces are indelibly fixed in the public mind. What happened to them between the Saturday when they were last seen, and the discovery of their bodies at Lakenheath, Suffolk, nearly two weeks later will be the substance of the case.

The inquiry that attempted to unravel those events is the largest ever undertaken by the police, with a cost expected to have run into millions of pounds. At the peak of Operation Fincham, 80 officers were working in the incident room and a total of 426 officers from 21 forces were drafted in to help. The book of condolence, in memory of Holly and Jessica, has been signed by 158,000 people.

Meanwhile, in Soham, workmen are removing the metal cladding surrounding Huntley's small detached house in the grounds of Soham College. This is in preparation for a jury visit scheduled for 10 November, a day when roads to the village will be cordoned off.

Despite the excruciating interest, both press and would-be sightseers have obeyed the requests of the girls' families and the village of Soham to respect their privacy. Just in case, round-the-clock security guards have been posted to keep any "tourists" away from Huntley's home and the school grounds.