The day Holly and Jessica disappeared

'I started to panic a bit... I kept saying they would be home in a minute... I just waited for news which didn't come'
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After eight hours of searching in vain on a chilly, murky night, Kevin Wells began to wonder whether his missing daughter Holly and her friend Jessica Chapman had sought sanctuary in school buildings near his home.

"It was a cold, damp sort of night and there was a light fog. It was the sort of night you would seek shelter," he said in a statement read out to a jury in the Old Bailey yesterday.

As he passed Soham Village College in the early hours, he noticed the only light shining through the gloom was coming from the office of Ian Huntley, who was the caretaker there.

Mr Wells and two friends entered the darkened building to tell the caretaker, "as a matter of courtesy", that they planned to search the area for the 10-year-olds.

Mr Huntley's alsatian bounded out of the shadows, barking, and the trio swiftly retreated. Seconds later Mr Huntley appeared. Mr Wells, 40, was to tell police: "He came outside and I let him know that Holly and Jessica were missing and could we search the school."

Statements from the schoolgirls' families were read to the Old Bailey yesterday for the first time. They detailed the routine of the weekend in August last year when the two girls went missing, and described the search which followed their disappearance - a hunt that would end 13 days later with the discovery of their bodies. Mr Huntley, who denies charges of murdering Holly and Jessica, was back in the dock after illness last week while Richard Latham QC, for the prosecution, told the court that the defendant informed Mr Wells that the police had already searched the college site before.

He explained his presence in the office at 4am without prom- pting, Mr Latham said. Mr Wells said that Mr Huntley told him: "He had to write a note to one of his co-workers to let them know he would be in work late that morning as his sleep had been interrupted by the police. He asked: 'How did you know to come here?'"

Mr Huntley, 29, has pleaded not guilty to the double murder, but the jury of seven women and five men was told last week that he was unlikely to deny that the friends died in his house shortly after their disappearance on 4 August 2002, prompting the biggest missing persons hunt in recent history.

Mr Wells said in his statement that he met Mr Huntley again on Wednesday 7 August. The Wells, along with Jessica's parents, went to the college to make a public appeal for the girls' safe return. Mr Huntley approached the families as they left the building.

Mr Wells said in his statement: "I broke off my conversation with [the police family liaison officer] because I was aware of somebody standing just behind my left shoulder, too close for comfort and invading my personal space. I turned round and saw it was Ian Huntley, and I said 'Hello'. He replied: 'Kevin, I am so sorry I didn't realise it was your daughter'."

Thanking him for his kind words, Holly's father noted that Mr Huntley looked "drained" with dark circles resembling "panda eyes". "I genuinely felt he was being sincere in offering his condolences," Mr Wells said. On the same day, the prosecution alleges that Mr Huntley went back to the spot near RAF Lakenheath where the girls' bodies had been dumped. There, according to Mr Latham, Mr Huntley set the bodies on fire in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Yesterday's statements gave a glimpse of the contented family lives the two girls led.

The day before her daughter vanished, Nicola Wells, 36, had taken Holly and her friend Natalie Parr shopping. She bought Holly some black flared trousers and bras for both of the girls, from Marks & Spencer.

The following morning, Mrs Wells said in her statement, Holly's bedroom was covered with sweet wrappers from a midnight feast, and the girls were high spirited enough to annoy Holly's older brother Oliver by entering his room.

Only a few streets away, Jessica was desperate to text her best friend, having returned from a family holiday on Friday night. She was eager to give her the present of a necklace she had brought back from Menorca. At midday on Sunday, Jessica was allowed to join Holly and Natalie at the Wells's home once her older sister, Rebecca, had checked that she was carrying the mobile phone used to keep track of her movements.

From the kitchen, Mrs Wells could hear the three girls playing in the next room. She said in her statement: "The girls were giggling and shouting out questions at me. I think they were doing a general knowledge quiz on the computer."

After Natalie left, Jessica called home to ask if she could stay first for lunch and later for a barbecue which the Wells were hosting for their friends Rob and Trudy Wright. While the two men sheltered from the rain under the garage door, the women cooked in the kitchen and the girls - one a tomboy who loved football so much that she had the England team poster in her room, the other who adored dancing - contented themselves upstairs.

Holly was wearing her Manchester United top. Jessica was wearing a similar one belonging to Oliver, Holly's brother. Both were adorned with the number 7 and "Beckham" on the back.

At about 5pm, Mrs Wells took the picture of the two girls in their football shirts which is now so familiar.

Later, Mrs Wells was to give another statement to the police after being shown Manchester United shirts recovered during the search for the girls.

One was the right half of a Manchester United top, size 30 inch, and another a Manchester United top, size 28 inch. Mrs Wells said she recognised both as being "of the type" owned by her children, Holly and Oliver. She said the tops belonging to her children were bought at Allsports in Cambridge at about the time of Holly's birthday. She had bought two tops, a small one for Holly and a larger one for Oliver.

Just after the photograph was taken Oliver, 12, returned home and at 5.20pm they sat down for their meal of spare ribs and chocolate cake. But the children soon asked to leave the table to return to their games.

The girls, described in court as "popular, sensible and reliable", disappeared upstairs. It was to be the last time the family saw them.

Only when Holly's parents called them down to say goodbye to Mr and Mrs Wright did they realise their absence. Confident of their daughter's good behaviour, they did not worry immediately until her 8.30pm curfew had passed.

"At 8.35pm I stared to think she will phone me soon. At 8.45pm I started to panic a bit," Mrs Wells said in her statement to police.

Her husband and son immediately set off on bicycles calling out the girls' names, in a search that would continue in increasingly wide circles over the course of the night.

Mrs Wells telephoned Jessica's mother to check that the girls had not returned there. Mrs Chapman, 44, said: "I sat there for about 10 minutes, thinking Kevin would ring back to say they were just up at the sweet shop. I kept saying they would be home in a minute. Jessica would not do this. She always rings."

When she failed to get an answer from her mobile phone both Mrs Chapman and her husband Leslie, 52, began to worry for their "honest and well behaved" daughter who hated the dark so much that she refused to go to sleep without a light on.

The Chapmans, including Rebecca, 16, joined the hunt and throughout the night an increasing number of friends, family and neighbours joined them.

Mr Wells said: "I returned home for the third time at around 10pm. Nicola was crying when I got back and said she had contacted the police and they were on their way."

His wife added in her statement: "I remained up all night at home while the others were searching. I just waited for news which didn't come."

Mr Wells - who knew Mr Wells knew through his cleaning company, which had contracts at the college - told police that he first spotted the caretaker walking his dog near St Andrews' primary, a school near Soham Village College, an hour later. But he said in his statement that Mr Huntley had not noticed him. It was not until the early hours of Monday 5 August when the men returned to the site that Mr Wells was to speak to Mr Huntley, he said in his statement.

Mr Huntley's former partner Maxine Carr, 26, denies two counts of assisting an offender and a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The court was told that Mrs Wells and Mrs Chapman were both familiar with Ms Carr, who was a temporary teaching assistant at the girls' school during the previous term. Their daughters "genuinely thought a lot of" her.

Mrs Chapman had worked as a learning support assistant at the same school and Mrs Wells said in her statement that she remembered seeing her daughter hugging Ms Carr when she spotted her after majorette class one day.

Joy Pederson, who was Holly and Jessica's teacher, told the court yesterday that the pair got on so well with Ms Carr that she believed the young woman, who let her "heart rule her head", behaved inappropriately towards her charges. But Ms Pederson said the friends had been taught self-awareness and knew how to react if faced with a problem.

She told the court: "They would have stuck up for each other and been very loyal, trying to help the other one out."

The trial continues today.