PA news agency reporter Brian Farmer interviewed Ian Huntley at his home while Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were missing.
Soham murderer Ian Huntley gave such suspicious answers in an interview with a journalist that the reporter went to the police with his concerns, the newsman has recounted 20 years on.
Former caretaker Huntley killed 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman after they left a family barbecue to buy sweets in Soham, Cambridgeshire, on August 4 2002, then dumped their bodies in a ditch.
The 48-year-old is serving a life sentence for their murders and his then-girlfriend Maxine Carr was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in 2003 after being found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice for giving him a false alibi.
PA news agency reporter Brian Farmer, who interviewed the pair at their home while the search for the girls was ongoing, said Huntley’s answers were so suspicious that he raised his concerns with police.
He said Huntley, who barely knew the girls, “jumped in” to answer a question that he posed to Carr, who had been the girls’ teaching assistant, about stranger danger.
Huntley was also reluctant to be photographed.
He also gave an account about speaking to the girls while washing his dog outside his house, with the girls making no comment about the animal in the account provided to Mr Farmer by Huntley, which Mr Farmer found improbable.
“I simply couldn’t believe there were two children on earth who wouldn’t see the dog and be saying ‘oh that dog’s so cute, he’s so wonderful’,” he said.
“I didn’t think what he was saying could be true.”
Mr Farmer, 61, said he had knocked on their door, Carr opened it and they spoke with the door ajar.
“Then I remember Ian Huntley kind of poked his head into the gap behind Maxine Carr and kind of looked over her shoulder,” he said.
“I persuaded them after a few minutes to let me in so they could have a chat.
“I was slightly surprised because Ian Huntley didn’t seem keen to talk, which slightly surprised me because normally if children are missing people will help.
“It did slightly surprise me but I didn’t think anything particularly dramatic.”
He said that they spoke for around 45 minutes and initially he was more interested in what Carr had to say.
“I didn’t realise, but Maxine Carr was their classroom assistant,” said Mr Farmer. “Her contract had ended a couple of weeks earlier.
“She’d had a card they’d given to her when she left and she showed me that.”
He continued: “The first thing that seemed strange, I remember quite distinctly, was that I asked Maxine if at school they’d done stranger danger, and ‘don’t get into cars’.
“I asked her from her knowledge of Holly and Jessica how she thought they might have reacted if, for example, a man had pulled up alongside in a car and said: ‘Would you like a lift, girls?’
“The odd thing was that she didn’t answer the question because Ian Huntley jumped in straight away and he answered the question.
“He said that he thought Holly would probably get in the car and quietly go, but Jessica wouldn’t.
“She’d put up a real fight and a real struggle. He was quite agitated and emotional.
“I remember thinking: ‘Why is he so agitated? Why is he so emotional?’
“The main thing that struck me when he answered the question was, well, how can he possibly know how they would react?
“He’s the caretaker of a secondary school in Soham.
“They don’t go to the secondary school. He doesn’t appear to know them at all.
“That kind of switched my attention a bit more to him.”
He said Carr was “happy” to be photographed with her leaving card from children in the class, but Huntley was “adamant he wouldn’t be photographed”.
Mr Farmer said Huntley “used this very strange phrase that I’ve never forgotten – he said even his mother didn’t have a photograph of him because he hated being photographed so much”.
“Methinks the reason people don’t want to be photographed generally is because if their picture is published someone will recognise them,” the reporter said.
He said he did not believe what Huntley was saying.
“I didn’t understand how he could know how they’d react,” Mr Farmer said.
“I started to think: ‘Well, he appears to be the last man to have seen them.
“’In all likelihood the person who’s responsible for their disappearance or death will be someone living locally and I don’t think he’s telling the truth.’
“Maxine Carr had not said anything herself that made me think that she’s not telling the truth, but I did think: ‘Well, if he’s not telling the truth, she’s not telling the truth either.’”
The reporter, who was called as a prosecution witness during Huntley’s trial, said: “I think the way he described how Holly and Jessica would react is exactly how they did react.
“That’s why he knew how they’d react, because that’s how they reacted when he killed them.”
The reporter said that a week after he raised his concerns with police, he had a call from detectives saying that Huntley and Carr had been arrested and they needed to interview Mr Farmer.
He said detectives were interested in what Carr had said to him. They were interviewing her at police headquarters at the time and it “became apparent what Maxine Carr was saying to police a week on was quite different to what she said to me”.
“What she’d said to me was she’d been in Soham with Ian, that they’d been for a walk, she had this detailed description of how she cooked a Sunday lunch and burnt the roast potatoes – what she was saying to police was that she wasn’t in Soham at all, she’d gone home to her home in Humberside and she hadn’t been there,” he said.
“What the police wanted was details of my interview to put to her during the interview.”
He said Huntley and Carr were later charged, but the “part the press played in his downfall” was “not so much that my interview played any part of it”, but that Huntley then did further interviews with other media outlets, including for TV, and he was recognised by someone who had known him in Humberside.
“They called the police and said: ‘That man you’ve interviewed – he’s got a lengthy record of misbehaviour with children’,” he said.
Mr Farmer said there had been “a lot of suspicions and concerns about his character when he was living in Humberside but he hadn’t been convicted of anything”, so Cambridgeshire Police had not been aware of this.
Mr Farmer said detectives also noticed that, in the press photograph of Huntley sitting in his car, the three tyres visible on Huntley’s car appeared to be brand new, with the fourth not in view due to the angle from which the image was taken.
He said police thought it suspicious that the caretaker had fitted a set of brand new tyres on his vehicle.
Police knocked on the doors of tyre companies and “eventually found the tyres that Huntley had taken off the car and they did indeed have forensic evidence from where he’d dumped those two little souls’ bodies”, Mr Farmer said.
He said the photograph played a part in the trial.