Ian Huntley is a man who would lie to anyone if it suited his purpose, it was claimed at the Old Bailey trial yesterday.
As he closed his cross-examination of the former caretaker accused of murdering Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Richard Latham QC accused him of "peddling nonsense" and "bogus concern" in the days after the 10-year-olds vanished. He said it was a cynical ploy by Huntley to divert attention from himself.
The schoolfriends' disappearance on 4 August 2002 led to the biggest missing persons hunt in history, ending a fortnight later when their badly decomposed bodies were discovered in an isolated ditch. As the town became increasingly frantic, Mr Huntley was a constant presence, chatting to police, journalists and neighbours about how he had watched them walk off after speaking to them that night.
Not only was he "weaving a clever false story", Mr Latham said yesterday, but he was embellishing it with "emotion", offering hope he knew was unfounded. He was even prepared to use one of the girls' parents in his aim to stay one step ahead of the police, the prosecutor added. In television interviews, Mr Huntley spoke of "clinging to a glimmer of hope" and praying that the "girls are alive and well".
"It was cold, wasn't it, what you were doing? It was totally cynical wasn't it, Mr Huntley?" Mr Latham asked, adding: "The truth of the matter is that you can tell lies to anyone if it suits your purpose, can't you?" "I did it, yes," replied the 29-year-old, who denies the double murder. But he added he was "telling the truth up here (in the witness box)".
The small Cambridgeshire town came to a virtual standstill in early August as everyone waited for news of Holly and Jessica, hopeful they would come home safely. "It was terrible, wasn't it, the atmosphere in Soham? It was desperate, wasn't it? And yet you were able to go on lying, not just telling the story but giving people hope, weren't you?" asked Mr Latham. "Yes," replied Mr Huntley to each question.
Three days after he dumped the girls' bodies at a remote spot near Lakenheath airbase, Suffolk, Mr Huntley approached Kevin Wells, Holly's father, and said he hoped everything would turn out all right. Huntley claimed he merely wanted to apologise to the parent, but Mr Latham insisted he was toying with Mr Wells' emotions, offering bogus hope in his own "self interest".
"You have the strength and will to do that, don't you, Mr Huntley?" asked the prosecutor. "It wasn't something I wanted to do," came the reply.
"How did you feel when you chose to say those things to him, Mr Huntley?" continued the barrister. "I felt terrible," answered Mr Huntley.
"You were prepared to do it and to use one of the very parents of the children who died?" pressed Mr Latham. "I didn't use him," the defendant snapped back.
Mr Latham accused him of cynically "laughing" at police when he praised their efforts during television interviews. He denied it.
The jury heard previously that the girls had been spotted on College Road, which is past the caretaker's cottage, shortly after 6.30pm that evening and minutes before entering his house. When Mr Huntley initially told police they walked off after speaking to him, he had described them disappearing in that direction.
"It just happens to have been what we know now was their initial route?" said Mr Latham, adding: "You saw them walk past your house and on to College Road?" "No, I didn't," replied Mr Huntley. "You were watching?" continued the prosecutor. "No, I weren't watching," answered the defendant.
Mr Latham once again accused Mr Huntley of discussing his false alibi with Miss Carr, who said she was with him in Soham when she was more than 100 miles away in Grimsby, within hours of the girls' deaths. When police came round to take statements, he was confident that she would back up his story. It was a tale they had already woven for journalists.
"I didn't know she would do that on a legal document, no," insisted Mr Huntley, who claimed they had only casually discussed the issue and he had been against her lying.
Under re-examination from his own barrister, Stephen Coward QC, Mr Huntley insisted that once he had decided not to call the police there was no turning back. He had felt "numb" when he disposed of the bodies. Later, despite his outwardly calm appearance, he had been in "turmoil". With hindsight, he added, it was easy to see what he should have done.
The jury of seven women and five men is charged with deciding the guilt or innocence of Mr Huntley and his partner Maxine Carr, who denies two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The trial continues.
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