Photographs take jury on a journey to the remote ditch where the girls lay entwined

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The Independent Online

Under cover of darkness Ian Huntley parked down an isolated lane and pulled the 10-year-olds' bodies from the boot of his Ford Fiesta, it was claimed yesterday.

As he laboured under the weight of her lifeless frame, Jessica Chapman's hair caught on the branch of one of the trees in the overgrown woodland. According to the prosecution the caretaker pushed on, determined to hide the girl and her schoolmate Holly Wells in a spot so remote that they would never be found.

It was alleged that he dumped them in a ditch used to irrigate the surrounding farmland, laying the playmates side by side before meticulously slicing off every part of their clothing. They were left wearing only their favourite necklaces.

Three days later he would return to pour petrol on the dead children and set light to them, flames which would extinguish before taking full hold, it was alleged.

Yesterday, as Richard Latham QC explained the prosecution case at the conclusion of the first week of the murder trial, he took the jury on the same short trip, flashing up photographs of the walk down the lane next to Lakenheath air base in Suffolk. The visual journey ended in the overgrown spot where the friends were eventually found 13 days after they vanished from their home town in Cambridgeshire.

The packed courtroom, the girls' families among the crowd, stared at the photograph as the realisation dawned - the terribly decomposed bodies were lying just out of sight of the camera. "They are still there in the ditch in the distance, just on the other side of that branch," Mr Latham said. "Had they not been discovered at that stage, the state of the decomposition was such that they might never have been found. They were very, very close to almost having wholly disappeared to becoming just skeletons."

Mr Huntley, 29, denies murdering the girls, but Mr Latham insisted the Crown's case was that he was in fact their killer and had disposed of their remains within hours of their disappearance.

The remains of Holly and Jessica were discovered on 17 August by Keith Pryer, a local gamekeeper. They were so badly decomposed they had to be identified by dental records and DNA profiles.

The contents of their stomachs were consistent with the barbecue they had enjoyed with Holly's family earlier that day, which appeared to indicate they died within four to six hours of that meal.

The girls were lying on their backs, their legs interlinked. They lay in such a prone position that a Home Office pathologist later concluded that they must have been moved and dumped before rigor mortis had set in.

Small shreds of clothing beneath them formed a "jigsaw" which matched with the charred shirts, tracksuit bottoms and underwear found in a hangar at Soham Village College where Mr Huntley was caretaker. Each item of clothing was flashed up on plasma screens dotted around court one - Holly's bra, Jessica's underpants, trainers, the Manchester United shirts. All had been cut to ease their removal.

A path of crushed nettles leading to the spot where they were found indicated Mr Huntley's path through dense vegetation a fortnight earlier, the prosecution insisted. A second track gave away the fact he had returned to finish the job, fearful of any DNA which might be traced if they were discovered. Scorching around the area showed that an attempt had been made to set light to the remains in an attempt to "disguise them or destroy evidence".

Phone records linked Mr Huntley, the prosecution said, to his grandmother's house near by on Wednesday 7 August, while a neighbour had seen a man with a similar appearance that same day. Mr Latham said: "Whoever it was who killed the girls became concerned about forensic evidence and we suggest revisited the scene and fired the bodies. The second access track we invite you to consider shows Huntley's movements on that Wednesday."

Mr Latham insisted that a host of forensic science material linked Mr Huntley to the remote location where the bodies were found - an area he knew well because his grandmother lived locally and his father had once had a house half a mile away. "You will be invited to consider just how clever was the place that he left them because there was a very significant possibility that, having put them there, they were never going to be found," he told the jury.

"We suggest that Ian Huntley knew this area really well. Whoever it was who dumped the bodies would not have set off down that track in the dark unless they knew where they were going or what they would find."

Despite his attempts to clean his red Ford Fiesta - removing, the prosecution alleges, seat covers and a throw as well as carpet from the boot - traces of the unusual concrete and chalk surface which cover the lane were found both inside and out. Pollen from trees and bushes was also discovered by scientists on the car's spare wheel, his boots and a red petrol can in the boot.

Not a single fingerprint or hair from the two girls was found in Huntley's house. This, Mr Latham said, was evidence of a meticulous clean-out.

However, fibres from their shirts - of such a material that they were unlikely to have easily shred until they were sliced - were found on his clothing, in his house and car. Their shirts in turn had threads from his attire. In total, 154 fibres had passed between them, while Mr Huntley's hair was found among the clothes.

"You may now appreciate why it is unlikely to be disputed that these two girls went into the house," Mr Latham added.

Yesterday the court was shown a series of images of the house that Mr Huntley and his partner shared, the place where the prosecution insists the girls lost their lives. A bright red bunch of fake flowers stood out against an otherwise anodyne series of rooms painted in pale colours. The jury saw the remarkably tidy bedrooms, the spotless kitchen, and the empty dining room.

Mr Huntley was unwell yesterday and was not in court to hear the case against him. His former partner, Maxine Carr, who denies two counts of assisting an offender and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, sat in the dock alone.

Mr Latham said Mr Huntley's defence was expected to concede that the girls died in his house and he had dumped the bodies. He said the defence might claim that Mr Huntley was confused at the time and unable to form an intention. If that was the case, he invited the jury to consider his apparently calculated behaviour after their deaths.

He added: "You may be asked by the defence whether it was some ghastly accident. If you are, we simple ask this question - two of them?"

YESTERDAY'S KEY POINTS

By Genevieve Roberts

¿ Holly and Jessica died on Sunday, 4 August, the day they disappeared, and the bodies were dumped that night, the prosecution said.

¿ On Wednesday, 7 August, Ian Huntley revisited the scene and set fire to the bodies, using a liquid accelerant.

¿ The jury was shown pictures of burnt clothing found in the school bin, including underwear, and scorched training shoes.

¿ Manchester United shirts won by Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were cut almost exactly in half. Jessica's shirt showed slight burns.

¿ A day after the clothes were discovered, Mr Huntley and Maxine Carr were arrested.

¿ Hours later, the dead girls were found by passers-by, including a local gamekeeper.

¿ Asphyxia was the most likely cause of death. Fire damage suggested an attempt to destroy forensic science evidence.

¿ The area was "seldom used by anyone other than a farmer and his employees", the jury heard.

¿ The jury was shown photographs of the boot of Mr Huntley's Fiesta, including rough-cut carpet, red petrol can and scissors.

¿ Samples from the car matched the soil from the track near the bodies.

¿ Pollen samples at the scene matched pollen on the car's pedals, footwells and petrol can.

¿ An "exceptionally detailed clean-up" of the house left fingerprints of the girls on a chocolate box.

¿ Maxine Carr must have been involved because she would have spotted a clean-up by someone else, the prosecution claimed.

¿ The prosecution said Ms Carr told police she lied because Mr Huntley had been falsely accused of a crime before and had a nervous breakdown. She did not want him to be falsely accused again, she said.

¿ The jury was told it could convict Ms Carr only if it first convicted Ian Huntley of murder.