Jury retraces the last known steps of Holly and Jessica

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The Independent Online

A small group of figures in dark overcoats stood huddled next to Soham's war memorial yesterday, listening intently to Richard Latham QC, the prosecution counsel.

The scarlet poppy wreaths contrasted with the greyness of the day. The figures stopped for a few minutes, then turned and, flanked by police officers, walked slowly back along the road, retracing the last known journey of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. The once routine steps of two "perfectly normal" 10-year-old schoolfriends is now a trip of momentous consequence.

As the second week of the murder trial opened, the precincts of the Old Bailey's court number one moved to the small fenland town where the two girls lived.

Within a cordoned-off area marked by dozens of police officers in fluorescent jackets, the seven women and five men who must decide the innocence or guilt of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr walked in silence broken only by the occasional military jet passing overhead.

Around them the odd signs of daily life - a man working on the roof timbers of a new house and an old lady with a walking stick - were rare sights on otherwise deserted streets.

Beyond the cordon only the traffic jams caused by diversions and a few closed shops gave any clue to the fact that normal life in the town had been interrupted. None the less, many of those who live there had taken up offers of free or cheap entrance to nearby tourist attractions rather than see the return of the international media.

Shortly after 11am, the cavalcade had swept into Soham. Eight police outriders, their blue lights flashing, preceded a silver Rover transporting Mr Justice Moses, followed by a coach with darkened windows containing the jury. Half an hour later they were driven to the Chapman home, where a lone police officer marked the location. They then made the 700-metre trip to the Wells family house where the jury got out of the coach and began their sombre procession. Both homes appeared deserted, the girls' parents having chosen to leave town for the day.

Their number swollen to 40 by barristers, court officials and police officers, the group walked what the prosecution says was Holly's and Jessica's route after leaving the Wells house at 6.15pm on 4 August 2002. Passing through an alleyway, the jury walked down the main road to the war memorial before doubling back and taking a small lane to the sports centre where the girls were recorded on CCTV as they went to buy sweets. Entering, the assembled crowd saw the vending machines that had attracted the children and the security camera set at the identical angle to the moment it captured them on film.

They then crossed the green outside Soham Village College and walked up College Road before doubling back to the caretaker's cottage Mr Huntley and Ms Carr shared until their arrest on 17 August last year.

Mr Latham, surrounded by yellow-leaved weeping willows, reminded the jury that the autumnal area bore little resemblance to the summer evening of the girls' disappearance, which prompted the biggest missing persons hunt in recent history.

The three-bedroom house, he added, had been completely transformed, with the removal of the original windows and outer slabbing. "During the police search the house had been stripped of all interior fittings. Each room, for your assistance, has been labelled. Upstairs all the floorboarding is new plyboarding, which has been put down in order to allow you to move around in safety.

"The bathroom has no fittings. You will recollect that as you look through the door the bath was on the left-hand side. There are now two rails to stop you falling down as there is no flooring where the bath was," the barrister explained.

With one court official standing sentry at the door, the jury was allowed in to wander through the bare rooms. The jurors spent 15 minutes in the house where the prosecution alleges the two girls lost their lives after being enticed inside by Mr Huntley. While the 29-year-old denies murder, the court has been told he is likely to concede that they died inside the house.

Yesterday neither Mr Huntley nor Ms Carr, 26, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, chose to join the visit to Soham.

Reconvening after lunch, the jury made the short trip across the deserted school site to the hangar where, the Old Bailey was told last week, police officers found a number of bins, one of which contained the girls' charred clothing.

After a brief trip to the nearby boiler house, they entered Soham Village College to see where Mr Huntley had worked - his former office, the kitchen and the main hall. Returning to the sports centre they travelled slowly down to St Andrew's Primary School where the two girls had been classmates and Ms Carr their temporary classroom assistant.

They stayed outside while Mr Latham gave brief instructions indicating points of interest such as the spot where so many people from the town had gathered on the night the girls vanished to begin what would turn into a search that was ultimately in vain.

Today the jurors will visit the site near RAF Lakenheath where the girls were found.