A year on, recovery comes slow to Soham

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The Independent Online

In the year since Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing, inhabitants of their Fenland town have become all too aware of the stigma surrounding the name Soham.

"Since the tragic events of last summer, we residents find we don't need to explain where our town is any more. In fact, we are often deliberately vague when people ask where we come from," the Reverend Tim Alban Jones said yesterday.

The girls' disappearance led to Britain's biggest hunt. Their bodies were found in shallow graves by Lakenheath air base.

Yesterday, once again, residents pleaded with "well-wishers" not to turn their town into a mawkish tourist attraction.

A year ago, posters appealed for news of the two girls in every shop window. Signs of normality now prevail - a banner offering congratulations on the birth of a baby girl, a note advertising air-conditioned premises. But few have forgotten the events of last August.

"If you just landed from Mars you would have no idea that we had been through anything exceptional. If you were to probe just a little bit deeper, you would see wounds that are still quite raw," said the vicar.

Counsellors have been on hand, particularly for Holly and Jessica's fellow pupils at St Andrew's primary school. Yesterday Frank Murphy, the senior educational psychologist with Cambridgeshire County Council, warned the children of Soham would need to be monitored for some time to come.

"It has never really gone out of our minds," said Jenny Webster, a hairdresser. "I have noticed no children walking about on their own. They are always with a group or an adult."

The town is waiting tensely for the trial of the Soham Village College caretaker, Ian Huntley, 29, and his partner, Maxine Carr, 26. He denies murder, while she has pleaded not guilty to assisting an offender and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

"People would rather put it behind them," said John Powley, a councillor, but admits: "Soham could never be as it was."