One damp evening in August, two little girls went missing. For two weeks, the entire country was transfixed by their disappearance, and a shrine grew in the village where they lived. Then their naked bodies were found in a nettlefilled ditch and the caretaker of the local school was charged with their murder, his girlfriend with conspiracy. Sixteen months later, after a trial filled with unbearable detail, Ian Huntley was found guilty of murder; Maxine Carr of perverting the course of justice. The case was a detective story and a sinister fairy tale rolled into one, a narrative of loss, horror and collective mourning, a myth which seemed to tell us something about the way we live now, and the fears we all hold. Nicci Gerrard, who sat through the entire trial, asks what we can learn from Soham, why we care so much, and whether our intense empathy actually shuts us off from other less dramatic events.
Nicci Gerrard is a novelist, who with her husband Sean French writes the best-selling psychological thrillers under the name of Nicci French (Secret Smile, Land of the Living, The Red Room, Beneath the Skin, Killing Me Softly, The Safe House and The Memory Game). Her first solo novel Things We Knew Were True, was published last year. For thirteen years she was a feature writer on The Observer, where she covered the trials of Rosemary West and of Harold Shipman.