Soham trial told of tyres mystery

They were in good condition but were replaced day after girls disappeared, says prosecution
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The Independent Online

Ian Huntley loitered around police investigating the disappearance of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, trying to discover what they knew, his murder trial heard today.

Richard Latham QC, prosecuting, said Huntley had first been seen "hanging around" near the police rendezvous point.

And he next tried to watch the police as they viewed CCTV footage which might show the girls, the lawyer told the Old Bailey jury.

Mr Latham said: "We suggest again that in the same way he had been hanging around near the police car trying to hear what was going on at the rendezvous point earlier that morning, he was in that foyer interested to know if the police could see anything on the CCTV."

The jury heard that police were viewing the CCTV footage at the Ross Peers Sports Centre in the early hours of Monday August 5 last year, less than 12 hours after the girls disappeared.

Huntley, 29, denies the double child murder but has pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Mr Latham began opening the case against the former school caretaker and his former girlfriend yesterday.

Today's hearing was slightly delayed by legal argument. No reason was given.

Maxine Carr, 26, a former classroom assistant at the girls' primary school in Soham, Cambridgeshire, denies one charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and two charges of assisting an offender.

Mr Latham said the reality was that the piece of film looked at had not yet been identified.

"Police at that stage did not know whether the girls could be seen on the CCTV tapes."

Turning to the Monday morning – the day after the girls disappeared – Mr Latham described a phone call made at 6.56am. Huntley's mobile had rung Maxine Carr's mother, he said.

He said: "The call lasted just under five minutes. You may think a lot was said in five minutes. We suggest that call is a very important call."

Mr Latham said that, when interviewed, Carr said Huntley had rung her and told her that he had been out with the police searching for the girls all night.

"She described him as being in absolute tears as he was the last person to have spoken to them."

Carr allegedly said Huntley told her: "I am going to get fitted up like I did before."

She thought it was between 8am and 9am but it was obviously earlier than that, Mr Latham told the court. He said he wanted to come back to that call in due course.

"The potential significance of it will become much more apparent."

Mr Latham then moved on to a discussion of Huntley's car, which he said, if proved, would be a "most important aspect of the prosecution case".

He said the red five–door Ford Fiesta had first been bought by a different owner in 1990.

"There were factory–fitted carpets both inside the car and inside the boot," he told the court.

The original owner sold the car in August 2000, and in a short time it passed to a number of owners.

"It was for its age in very good condition."

Mr Latham said it was sold at auction on July 19, 2001, and soon afterwards resold to Huntley.

"When it was sold to Huntley it still had factory–fitted carpets in the boot. It was immaculate inside and out."

Huntley took the car to a Scunthorpe garage for inspection, the court heard.

The tyres were almost worn out and had between just one and three millimetres of tread depth. Despite this, no work was done.

Mr Latham said on August 5, 2001, the car was taken into a Kwik Fit in Scunthorpe.

Mr Latham said that there was a garage record of the car – registration J112 YWR – from August 5 2001.

It showed the car had done 38,700 miles.

It had fitted four Centaur tyres which had a minimum tread of seven millimetres.

Mr Latham said that almost a year later, on July 10 2002, 24 days before the girls' disappearance, Huntley took the Fiesta to a Ford garage in Ely and wanted it serviced and put through an MOT test.

The jury was then shown copies of an invoice. Mr Latham said: "You can see on the invoice the mileage of the vehicle is entered."

It showed 48,807 miles. Mr Latham said: "It's done almost 10,000 miles in a year, this car.

"Those who test the cars have to write down details of the car they are examining."

He said the front tyres now had a tread of five millimetres and the rear tyres six millimetres. He said: "They have lost two millimetres in a year.

"With that rate, they have got a long way to go before they reach the legal limit of 1.6 millimetres."

Mr Latham said that at 3.16pm on the same day "someone, it does not matter who, used a Soham College land line and rang Huntley's mobile.

"What that was all about does not matter at all. What matters is where his mobile was when he received that call."

Mr Latham alleged that at the time the mobile was rung, it was picked up on Ely cell site.

"It is the cell site that matters. It is several cell sites away from Soham."

He said, in an expert's opinion, if the phone call had been picked up on the Ely cell site, the phone could not have been in Soham.

Prosecution said that at 3.36pm on that Monday a timed invoice had been issued to a man who had bought four new tyres.

"The transaction was at a tyre depot in Ely."

He said four new tyres were fitted to a red Ford Fiesta.

"The registration recorded on the paperwork was not the registration of the car. The man who turned up asked for a different registration number to be put on the paperwork and slipped £10 to the mechanic in order for that to be achieved," said Mr Latham.

The registration – L78 TXR – was a false number, he added.

"It has never been issued to any car. Only those four ... tyres were fitted between August 4 and 17. More particularly, one of the mechanics noticed the tyres coming off were in surprisingly good condition with four to six millimetres of tread depth."

Mr Latham said that one of the mechanics who fitted the new Sava Effecta tyres noticed that the old tyres had four to six millimetres of tread remaining and had considered selling them.

He said shortly before Huntley was arrested, the Fiesta was taken away for forensic tests.

"The car had done about 1,000 miles since the MOT test but got four brand new tyres fitted, as we suggest, by Huntley in Ely," he told the court.

"Tyres, if driven on soft ground rather than on concrete, can leave marks."

Mr Latham told the court that if you had a "guilty conscience" and don't want your tyre tracks to be traced, "you may be prepared to spend a lot of money" to get a new set of tyres.

"That's if you are guilty," he told the court.

He said that if you were innocent, even if you feared you might be wrongly accused, you would not throw away four tyres and fit them with new tyres as the new tyres might fit the treadmarks found at the site.

He said the only person who could change his tyres with confidence to exclude his own treadmarks "was the person who knew the type of treadmark at the scene".

"That's the person who went there with the bodies," Mr Latham told the court.