Soham killer Huntley to serve at least 40 years, court rules

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The Independent Online

The families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the two 10-year-olds killed by Huntley, were disappointed he was not given a "whole-life" sentence.

Kevin and Nicola Wells and Leslie and Sharon Chapman attended the court in London yesterday to hear how long their daughters' killer would spend in jail.

They said in a joint statement later: "We understand that judges can only sentence on the facts of the case put before them. But make no mistake, we hope that Ian Huntley spends the rest of his natural life in prison.

"We may not be around in 40 years' time, but our children will. They, like us, continue to feel the pain of their sisters' murders each and every day. That should not be forgotten even in the distant years to come. That pain does not go away."

Mr Justice Moses, who set the tariff and presided over the trial, said even with the theoretical option of parole after 40 years, there was "little or no hope of the defendant's eventual release".

Huntley, 31, a school caretaker, was convicted in December 2003 of murdering the Cambridgeshire girls and given two life sentences.

But changes to the sentencing powers of judges meant that a tariff for the time he is to serve in jail was not set until yesterday.

Previously, the Home Secretary had the power to impose whole-life tariffs. Huntley was found guilty the day before the Criminal Justice Act came into force, which handed tariff-setting to judges along with rules on which categories of murder should carry whole-life sentences. Because Huntley fell into the transitional stage between old and new laws, the decision on his tariff was referred to the High Court.

Explaining his decision, Justice Moses said the law stated that whole-life tariffs should be imposed for murders involving the premeditated abduction of children or those with sexual or sadistic elements. He ruled that Huntley's case had many "aggravating" features but there was no clear evidence of a planned abduction or sexual activity and therefore he could not set the maximum tariff.

Huntley killed the two girls on 4 August 2002 after inviting them into the house he shared with Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the girls' school. Their bodies were found 13 days later but were too badly burnt and decomposed to establish cause of death or if they had been sexually assaulted.

It emerged during the trial that Huntley had been accused of raping and having sex with underaged girls.

The judge said yesterday that in making his decision he had started with a tariff of 30 years. He had revised that up by a decade after taking into account how Huntley had initially pretended to help with the search for the two girls, even talking to the families before the bodies were found.

The judge said: "The two children were vulnerable and obviously trusted the defendant because of his position in the school as caretaker and relationship with Carr. In particular, he must have killed one of the girls to avoid that girl disclosing his murder of the first. His actions in pretending to exhibit innocent concern after the murders demonstrate his lack of remorse.''

He added: "I have not ordered that this defendant will not spend the rest of his life in prison. The order I make offers little or no hope of the defendant's eventual release."

Maxine Carr, now 28, was jailed in December 2003 after being convicted of perverting the course of justice. She was freed last year.