I was delighted with 'sensible' Huntley, says college vice-principal about his job interview

The Vice-Principal of Soham Village College told the Old Bailey yesterday that she was delighted with Ian Huntley, who applied to replace a caretaker sacked for having an ''inappropriate relationship'' with a girl of 13.

Margaret Bryden said senior staff and governors at Soham Village College submitted candidates to a stringent interrogation.

Mr Huntley, 29, offered exemplary answers to their questions. Asked how he would behave if he found himself the focus of a young girl's attentions, he insisted that he would report the matter immediately, a promise he was to keep when the situation arose just weeks before he was arrested and accused of the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in August last year, the court was told.

Young for the post and with little experience, Mr Huntley, who said that he was looking forward to settling down and starting a family with his fiancée, appeared the ideal candidate. Ms Bryden said: "I was delighted. Ian had a very sensible approach to it - someone who was going to get married and was very level headed."

As the Old Bailey trial entered its ninth day, the jury was offered an insight into the young man who had gone to Soham, Cambridgeshire, from Grimsby and the tumultuous relationship he had with his partner, Maxine Carr, 26.

Using his mother's maiden name of Nixon, Mr Huntley - whose father held the same post at a primary school near by - was shortlisted from a host of applicants for the job of site manager at the college. The night before his interview in November 2001, he was asked to go to the school to do some practical tasks and Ms Bryden said that she was impressed with his enthusiastic manner. Introducing Ms Carr as the woman he planned to marry, he gave every impression of respectability.

The following day Ms Bryden, with the principal and one of the governors, asked him what he would do if a young girl was attracted to him. Ms Bryden said: "Huntley gave a very, very specific reply that he would report either to myself, as his line manager, or to the principal if anything was untoward. He also said he knew his duties would be involved with children but he had a job to do and he would not be involved with any of the children. I took that he meant children are going to be around but they are not my business when carrying out my duties."

Ms Bryden, embarrassed by the filthy state in which the last caretaker had left the cottage in the grounds, told the young couple that it would be fully renovated before they started their new life there.

Months later it was in these newly painted and carpeted rooms, according to the prosecution, that Mr Huntley murdered Holly and Jessica. The jury of seven women and five men has been told that Mr Huntley is unlikely to deny that the girls died while in the house in College Close.

After police checks were carried out, Mr Huntley was offered the job, in charge of three other workers, and Ms Carr - who denies two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice - could often be seen helping him out with his chores.

But Ms Bryden said that the apparently idyllic scenario began to fray. The immaculate way that Ms Carr kept the house was not reflected in Mr Huntley's work. Despite being eager to please, he was untidy and had problems managing his staff.

Heated discussions on the subject would often end with him storming out in tears. But he would return, Ms Carr in the background, to discuss and sort out the problem. Ms Bryden said: "Ian would discuss the issues with me but she would be waiting outside to ensure that he had come to discuss it."

She told the court that he would refer at times to the relationship whereby Ms Carr would be "telling him what to do", adding that in his "sullen" moments he complained of angry arguments with his fiancée, which would descend into shouting matches.

Under cross-examination from Ms Carr's QC, Michael Hubbard, Ms Bryden denied that Mr Huntley - who also made allegations about his father's treatment of him as a youngster - was living in a fantasy world. "There were times when he exaggerated but I don't think he lied - he was always eager to please and gain praise," she replied.

After Holly and Jessica vanished on 4 August 2002, prompting the country's biggest missing persons hunt, Ms Bryden spoke to the head caretaker in a series of phone conversations.

She said that Mr Huntley complained of being "hounded" by the police and press, many of whom he had given interviews to claiming to be the last person to have spoken to Holly and Jessica.

At one point he asked for a holiday. She said: "He told me he had been to his GP, that he had been given medication and been treated for depression and had high blood pressure."

When the police announced that they had left a message on Jessica's mobile phone in an attempt to contact the girls' "kidnapper", Ms Bryden said that she found herself having a detailed discussion with Mr Huntley about how one would charge such a phone.

The girls' decomposed bodies were eventually found 13 days after their disappearance near RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, a spot - according to businessman Benjamin Hickling - that Mr Huntley often frequented to watch the jets. Mr Hickling told the court yesterday: "It was an area you are not supposed to go down but was an area where he could go to see the aeroplanes and an area where he spent a lot of time."

On 13 August, a false lead was prompted by the discovery of freshly dug mounds near Newmarket and a full-scale search was launched. That night Ms Bryden telephoned Mr Huntley. During the course of that conversation, she told the court, he repeated one statement several times. She said: "He told me he was the last person to see them alive. I questioned him on how he could be the last person to see them alive." The trial continues.