Journalist reported suspicions over Huntley to the police, court told

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The Independent Online

Ian Huntley was reported to police by a BBC journalist who had become suspicious more than a week before he was arrested and accused of murdering Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

In the days after the disappearance of the two 10-year-olds, the world's media descended on their home town of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Despite complaining vociferously about being hounded by the media, the school caretaker gave countless interviews. He said he was the last to have spoken to the two schoolfriends and was "praying" for their safe return.

To some of the media, he became a "nuisance". Debbie Tubby, a BBC producer, told the murder trial yesterday that Mr Huntley had first approached her the night after the girls disappeared on 4 August 2002. She said: "He told me the police had searched his house and they thought he did it."

It was not a comment that Ms Tubby considered too important, though she made a note to call him later. "He was kind of glorifying in the fact that the police had said that and that is why I didn't think he was serious," she explained.

Three days later, the caretaker approached her again. "He asked what the significant development was," she said. "I said I didn't know. I played it down. The next question was, 'Have they found the girls' clothes?'"

Cross-examined by Stephen Coward, Mr Huntley's QC, as to whether she had made an immediate note of a comment that had struck her as "very significant", she replied: "No, because I went straight to the police to report him."

Mr Huntley and his partner, Maxine Carr, were arrested on 17 August 2002, hours after the girls' charred clothes were found in a hangar at Soham Village College, where he was the caretaker.

The 29-year-old denies the double murder while Ms Carr, 26, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The jury listened yesterday to details of countless interviews the couple gave. The hushed courtroom watched Sky television interviews with the pair on 15 August - 11 days after the prosecution alleges Holly and Jessica were murdered by Mr Huntley.

After describing how the "cheerful, happy" pair had chatted to him on the evening they disappeared before wandering off, Mr Huntley added: "While there is no news, there is still that glimmer of hope and that's basically what we are all hanging on to." Ms Carr - their former classroom assistant at St Andrew's primary school - described the girls as "lovely, really bubbly", and pleaded with any kidnapper to "just let them go; let them come home".

Holding up a hand-made card from Holly, she added: "This is something I will probably keep for the rest of my life I think."

Brian Farmer, a Press Association reporter, who interviewed the couple, explained how an "emotional" Mr Huntley had spoken of meeting the girls but refused to have his photograph taken, making the "strange" comment that even his mother had no pictures of him. James McKillop of the Glasgow Herald, who was in the same interview, said Ms Carr had insisted the girls "would kick up a stink" if a stranger had tried to get them into a car, while Mr Huntley had said it must have been "two people they ... trusted".

Earlier in the day, Detective Constable Tim Cleary told the court a "watery eyed" Mr Huntley, smoking nervously, had been curious about the police investigation and forensics when he popped into the caretaker's house for a cup of tea on the night the prosecution said he burnt the dead girls in an attempt to hide his crime.

The jurors have been told that Mr Huntley is unlikely to deny that the girls died in his house and Richard Latham QC, for the prosecution, asked them to question any potential defence that claimed the deaths were an accident.

The trial continues.