Good stronger than evil - vicar

TODAY marks the first anniversary of the disappearance of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Here, leading figures from the small town reveal how people have coped since the tragic events of last August.

TODAY marks the first anniversary of the disappearance of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Here, leading figures from the small town reveal how people have coped since the tragic events of last August.

THE vicar of Soham said last night the nation's reaction to the disappearance and murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had showed that "goodness was stronger than evil".

The Rev Tim Alban Jones, vicar of St Andrew's Church in Soham, Cambs, was speaking on the eve of the first anniversary of the girls' disappearance.

Holly and Jessica, both 10, vanished on August 4, 2002, shortly after being seen walking near their homes in Soham. Their bodies were found in a ditch near Lakenheath two weeks later.

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Mr Alban Jones said: "The people of Soham have been supporting each other in the past 12 months in a way that has surprised the professionals.

"It takes us back to the oldest question in the book. Why do bad things happen to good people?

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"But the way the community has pulled together has been exceptional. It is very fashionable to say that the idea of community is dead.

"But I think what has happened in the last 12 months in this community has shown that community spirit is alive and well.

"I have always believed that goodness is stronger than evil and what has happened in Soham over the last 12 months has reinforced my belief in that."

Mr Alban Jones added: "If you just landed from Mars and had no idea what had gone on in the last 12 months you would have no idea on the surface that we had been through anything exceptional or extraordinary.

"If you were to probe just a little bit deeper and not very much deeper you would be able to see that under the surface there are sore wounds that are still quite raw.

"That doesn't take very much probing to be exposed. You saw last year and reported how the playgrounds were empty.

"That didn't take long to be rectified. It's business as usual. Children are out and about as they would normally be.

"You wouldn't see that there was any great sort of difference in terms of people's behaviour.

"It's the sort of casual comment or the small comment people might pass in the street.

"Whereas before it might just have been a casual good morning it might be just a following remark.

"And of course it's not the first thing and not the only thing people talk about any more and that's entirely appropriate.

"But if you are in conversation for any length of time with somebody it doesn't take too long before it surfaces, particularly with strangers."

He added: "And there's a heightened sensitivity and awareness that you need to have at the back of your mind all the time."

Mr Alban Jones said a week had not gone by without someone contacting him to say they are still thinking about the families and about what happened last year.

"People from all over the country and abroad are clearly still very deeply moved and touched by all that went on in Soham. Very often their letters and cards contain poems or small gifts to pass on to the families."

He added: "Up until last August when you told people that you lived in Soham they would accept the information with a mixture of polite disinterest and blank incomprehension.

"Even when you explained that it was a small town with a population of about 9,000 half way between Ely and Newmarket, you could see that people weren't really taking it in. Since the tragic events of the summer that are all too well-known, we residents of Soham find that we don't need to explain where our town is any more.

"In fact, we often find ourselves being deliberately vague when people ask where we come from."

Two people have been charged in connection with Holly and Jessica's deaths.

Ian Huntley, 29, a former caretaker at Soham Village College, denies murdering the girls but admits conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Maxine Carr, 26, who lived with Huntley in Soham and was an assistant in Holly and Jessica's class, denies helping an offender and perverting the course of justice.

They are due to stand trial at the Old Bailey, London, on October 6.

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