Huntley's QC admits his client is guilty of manslaughter

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The Independent Online

Ian Huntley's barrister conceded yesterday that his client was guilty of manslaughter and should be punished.

Stephen Coward QC, for Mr Huntley, said: "Let's be blunt. On the totality of the evidence you have heard, we are not going to argue on behalf of Mr Huntley in the case of either girl that what he did makes him innocent and unworthy of punishment. He clearly is worthy of punishment.

"We conclude on the evidence available, thin as it is, that there is evidence that Mr Huntley is guilty of the manslaughter of both of Holly Wells and of Jessica Chapman."

Richard Latham QC, for the prosecution, insisted the "ruthless and merciless" former school caretaker should be convicted of murder.

The two barristers were giving their closing speeches in Court No 1 at the Old Bailey's on the 25th day of the trial. Mr Latham said it was the prosecution's case that Mr Huntleydecided the two schoolfriends had to die after a sexually motivated plan collapsed. He urged the jury to reject Mr Huntley's defence, describing him as a "capable and convincing liar" with nerves of steel.

Turning to Maxine Carr, Mr Latham said Mr Huntley's former fiancée had worked out that something terrible had happened but lied to safeguard their future together.

Mr Huntley, 29, denies murder and Ms Carr, 26, pleads not guilty to two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Mr Latham said: "We suggest the whole business in the house was motivated by something sexual.

"Whatever he initiated with one or other or both girls plainly went wrong and thereafter, in this ruthless man's mind, those girls had to die. They had to die in his own selfish self-interest. Each were potential witnesses; he was quite merciless."

The trial has heard Mr Huntley admit that the 10-year-olds entered his house in Soham, Cambridgeshire, on 4 August 2002. He claimed Holly accidentally drowned while Jessica was smothered to death as he tried to stop her screaming. After dumping their bodies in a ditch near Lakenheath air base in Suffolk, where they were found a fortnight later, the prosecution claimed, he meticulously covered his tracks. Together with Ms Carr, he created a false alibi, telling police that she had been upstairs in the bath that night when she was in fact more than 100 miles away in Grimsby.

"We make it absolutely clear that we can not - not - accept his [account]," said Mr Latham.

Focusing on Mr Huntley's claim that he was frozen by panic and fear and unable to recollect the details surrounding the deaths, the barrister asked the jury to remember how quickly he had "come round" afterwards, carefully preparing to dump the bodies and burn them.

"The value of the jury system is you do not leave your common sense behind you," Mr Latham said, adding that Mr Huntley was a man "capable of a cold-blooded sequence of events", who would not have fallen apart because of the result of a genuine accident.

The caretaker then embarked, he said. on "12 days of cynical deception", thoroughly cleaning his home and his car to destroy any trace of the girls' presence.

"Imagine you had done something a tenth as bad as he had done and being involved in the deaths of two 10-year-olds. Would you have been able to function and describe as he did in the witness box the intimate detail of what he was doing, thinking and talking?

"I put this to you bluntly: he is a capable and convincing liar. The jury should bear in mind the media interviews both defendants gave when deciding where the truth lay. Note the lies to camera and the ease with which the lies are told."

Mr Latham described Ms Carr's manner in the same interviews as cynically relaxed and chatty. Although the girls' former temporary teaching assistant insisted that she thought they had walked away from the house alive and she only provided a false alibi because she did not want her partner "fitted up", Mr Latham said she must have realised the significance of the massive clean-up of the house and even helped with it.

"She may have refused to confront what she had worked out and, no doubt, she would desperately have liked it never to have happened, but that doesn't stop her being in a position of knowing or believing that it has," he added.

In his closing speech for Mr Huntley's defence, Mr Coward said: "So far as Ian Huntley is concerned, everything he did, including going to the deposition site with the girls, setting fire to them, cutting the clothing, can be explained on the basis of someone who had a moment to decide, got it wrong, and once he was committed on the path he was on, it just got worse and worse."

He suggested the jury had "waited in vain" for evidence of behaviour by Huntley "which says to you 'this does not just prove manslaughter' - that he had done something terribly wrong amounting to manslaughter, but prove additionally that he intended to kill or intended to cause really serious injury".

The jury will hear a closing speech from Maxine Carr's lawyer today.