Huntley must serve 40 years at least, judge rules

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The parents of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had been hoping Mr Justice Moses would give school caretaker Huntley a whole life sentence. They said after today's ruling that they still hoped Huntley would never walk free.

After hearing the judge explain his decision to set a minimum 40-year sentence instead, they made an impassioned plea for Huntley to be kept behind bars for the rest of his life.

In a joint statement they said that although they might not be around in 40 years time, their other children would be and they would "continue to feel the pain".

Today's decision means that Soham murderer Huntley will not be considered for release from prison by the parole board until he is nearly 70.

But the ruling does not necessarily mean Huntley will eventually be freed.

The judge, who also presided over Huntley's Old Bailey trial, emphasised: "I have not ordered that this defendant will not spend the rest of his life in prison.".

Holly and Jessica, both 10, were murdered shortly after leaving their homes in Soham, Cambridgeshire, in August 2002.

Holly's parents Kevin and Nicola were in court alongside Jessica's parents Leslie and Sharon Chapman and Mr and Mrs Chapman's daughters Rebecca, 19, and Alison, 17.

Responding to today's ruling, the parents said: "We understand that judges can only sentence on the facts of the case put before them.

"But make no mistake, we hope that Ian Huntley spends the rest of his natural life in prison.

"As parents, we may or may not be around in 40 years' time, but our children will.

"They, like us, continue to feel the pain of their sisters' murders each and every day.

"That should not be forgotten even in the distance years to come. That pain does not go away."

Explaining his decision today, Mr Justice Moses said: "The order means that the Parole Board cannot even consider his release on licence until the defendant has spent forty years in prison.

"The minimum term of nearly forty years is ... the equivalent of a fixed term of nearly 80 years. The order I make offers little or no hope of the defendant's eventual release."

At the trial the judge had told Huntley: "There are few worse crimes than your murder of those two young girls."

Mr Justice Moses said today that in reaching his decision on a minimum term, he had taken into consideration personal statements from both victims' families, describing the impact on them of the loss of their daughters.

He said he had also taken into account representations from Huntley's lawyers but had found that although there were many aggravating features in the case, there was no mitigation.

"The two children were vulnerable and obviously trusted the defendant because of his position in the school as caretaker and relationship with (Maxine) Carr.

"In particular, he must have killed one of the girls to avoid that girl disclosing his murder of the first.

"He must have killed her when she knew what he had done to her friend. He concealed and attempted to destroy the bodies of both his victims."

The judge added: "His actions in pretending to exhibit innocent concern after the murders demonstrate his lack of remorse."

Huntley, a caretaker at the local secondary school, and his then girlfriend Maxine Carr, a classroom assistant at Holly and Jessica's primary school, were arrested after the girls' bodies were found.

Carr, now 28, was jailed in December 2003 after being convicted of perverting the course of justice and has now left prison.

Mr Justice Moses began the hearing with an explanation of why he was making the public announcement of the minimum period Huntley must serve before he could be considered for release or whether he should get a "whole life" tariff.

He said any order and the reasons for it were given for the purposes of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which did not come into force until a day after Huntley was convicted and sentenced in December 2003.

The Home Secretary had referred the case to the High Court so that a minimum term could be set following the guidelines set out in the Act.

The judge said the 2003 statute cannot be used to impose a longer sentence than that which would have been notified before it came into force - no defendant may receive a harsher penalty than that for which the law provided at the time he committed the offence.

He said he had reached the conclusion that the starting point should be a 30-year tariff rather than whole life.

Under the 2003 statute, the principles state that "whole life" prison terms are given for:

* Multiple murders that show a high degree of premeditation, involve abduction of the victim or are sexual or sadistic.

* Murder of a child following abduction.

Mr Justice Moses said the Huntley case lacked a proven element of abduction - the meeting between the girls and Huntley while Carr was away was plainly by chance.

"It is likely that the defendant took advantage of the girls' acquaintance with Carr to entice them into the house but that could not be proved.

"Their presence in the house, thus, remains unexplained.

"There is a likelihood of sexual motivation, but there was no evidence of sexual activity and it remains no more than a likelihood.

"In those circumstances the starting point should not be a whole life order."

But he said the case did involve the murder of children and the appropriate starting point was 30 years.

He said the aggravating features of the case were no different from those which would have been taken into account under former guidelines for sentencing, which stated:

"A substantial upward adjustment (from 15/16 years) may be appropriate in the most serious cases, for example, those involving a substantial number of murders, or if there are several factors identified as attracting the higher starting point present."

The judge said: "Having regard to the principles which I have identified I take the view that the minimum period should be substantially higher than the appropriate stating point.

"For the reasons I have given the minimum period I set is one of 40 years less the period of 14 months and six days spent on remand."