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Saturday, September 16, 2006 

The tragedy of Maxine Carr.

For a few weeks in the summer of 2002, Britain seemed to descend into a madness that can only be partially blamed on the balmy weather. On August the 4th, two school girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, went missing only minutes after having a photograph taken showing both wearing Manchester United replica shirts, smiling and without a care in a world. Within hours they were dead, murdered by Ian Huntley, the caretaker at the school that they attended in the town of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Huntley was living with a teaching assistant at the school, Maxine Carr.

The bodies of the girls were not found for nearly two weeks, and Huntley was not arrested until the day that they were. During that time both he and Carr had appeared on television, making pleas for them to be returned safely. Newspapers offered tens of thousands of pounds for clues. Hundreds of people joined in the search, coming from across the country to help. The girls' bodies were found on August the 17th, partially burned and badly decomposed, in a ditch close to the RAF Lakenheath airbase in Suffolk. Their proximity to the base has led to predictable conspiracy theories that it was a serviceman who killed the girls, rather than Huntley.

The discovery of the girls' bodies led to scenes almost reminiscent of that after the death of Princess Diana. Thousands of bouquets of flowers were left outside a church in Soham, coverage around the clock was available on BBC News 24 and Sky News, and dozens of rather ghoulish misery tourists descended on the town. The funerals of the girls were later televised. Meanwhile, the media almost as a whole set about gathering as much information on Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley as possible, the more salacious the better. They were vilified, and when Carr was eventually taken to court in Peterborough, protesters were waiting for her. Placards called for the restitution of the death penalty, grown women screamed abuse at the police van, and for a horrible moment it almost looked as if they might overwhelm the police. That Carr had nothing to do with the murders, was in Grimsby at the time and had only been charged with perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender, the latter of which she was cleared of doing, made no difference to the lynch mob. The next time she appeared in court was via video link, appearing white as a sheet and close to collapse. Carr had provided Huntley with a false alibi, believing his claims that he had not murdered the two girls. There's a distinct possibility that she was trapped with Huntley in an abusive relationship, which may well have contributed considerably to her behaviour.

Carr was released from prison on May the 14th 2004, and immediately received police protection. She won an injunction on the 24th of February, 2005, granting her lifelong anonymity, to the outrage of the Sun and Daily Express, who would have rather seen her released to a baying mob which would have ripped her limb from limb. They estimated that the cost of protecting her would cost £50m over her life time. That she wouldn't have needed protection if the same newspapers had not done everything they possibly could to make her the new Myra Hindley, a hate figure who could be wheeled out when news was slow, inevitably passed them by.

Even more shaming, the injunction didn't stop the articles from continuing to be published, many of which were entirely inaccurate, as Roy Greenslade has pointed out time and again.

Sadly, there's another side to this story, and one which is not inaccurate. As Roy Greenslade mentioned in one of the above articles, women and homes have been attacked, entirely mistakenly by individuals or mobs who believe that Maxine Carr has suddenly arrived in their area. Karen Meek is but one of the latest victims. That Meek is 31, a size 18 and has 3 children didn't stop her husband's van from being vandalised, cars passing and sitting outside her house for long periods, and people suddenly turning up on her doorstep unannounced. A Guardian article by Catherine Boyle alleges that a South African woman in the Lothians was also targeted. Another woman, Diane Carraro left Cheadle where she had been working after posters appeared around the town naming her as Carr. DoctorVee found at least three other examples of women being targeted out of the belief that they were Carr. One was on the Isle of Wight, where the council was forced to point out that she was not working for any library on the rock. The Sunday Moron, referring to Carr as the "Soham liar", reported that a woman who "bears a striking resemblance" was working in a hospital cafe in Merthyr Tydfil, leading the other workers to revolt. The Times reported in August 2004 that Irene Lyttle was forced to threaten legal action against vigilantes who had arrived outside her house, convinced she was Carr.

Yesterday an anonymous letter was published in the Guardian from a woman living in fear of her life, after she and her family returned from holiday to find that her house had been vandalised after a rumour had spread that Carr had moved in.

Our first thought was to get some publicity and dispel this dreadful rumour. It was then we came up against the extraordinary protection awarded to Carr by the courts: as you might expect, the press cannot publish where she is living, but they also cannot publish "where she is not living".

We were left to use friends, neighbours and local groups to try to help us stop the harassment. Just when we believed we were getting on top of the situation, it turned quite ugly. We received an anonymous letter from "a well wisher" with a printout of a web page. Our address had been published on the web as the residence of Carr, with encouragement to take action against us. Although we contacted the site operator and had that immediately removed, it had been on the internet for nearly three weeks and had spawned links to other pages. Many of these were personal pages and contained blogs exhorting violence against us. The worst of these was one which highlighted we were within "stabbing distance".

It's not difficult to find websites advocating violence against Carr, or forums where many guesses are made to where she's actually living. b3ta is one. UKChatterbox has a more recent thread, only posted two days ago, thankfully edited. The comments of some on the thread are horrendous. Stitched Together, a livejournal of a young goth, had a post: "Maxine Carr is living in (place removed). I hope someone stabs her in the eyes." It's since been edited, but the original message is still held in Technorati. The myspace of a 23-year-old woman called "Bunny" comments on a Daily Mail article by stating that she should be in prison and should never have children. "Barnze" muses on Ian Huntley's recent suicide attempt by calling him and Carr a "pair of cunts." The Derry forums have a post speculating on her whereabouts, as does another blog commenting on Huntley's overdose.

Some of the recent upsurge in rumours and advocating of violence can be put down to Huntley's desire to die, but the News of the World and Daily Mail should also bear some of the responsibility for the terror being visited on entirely innocent women and families across the country. The Screws recently printed blatant lies, accusing Carr of being highly involved in the plot to clear Huntley. The whole of the article is based on what Huntley told his mother, with the writers all too keen to believe what he says about Carr, but they snort with derision at his claim that Holly Wells died by accident when she fell in the bath.
That Huntley was and still is a serial liar doesn't stop them from considering what unsubstantiated remarks from a convicted murderer might lead to. The Mail claimed back in April that Carr had fallen in love and wanted to have children, "news [that] will devastate the parents of Huntley's victims, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman." The Scum of the World similarly seems to know exactly what the two girls' families want or are thinking, claiming that their sordid mendacious tape would set their minds at rest about what really happened to their daughters.

While I feel every sympathy for the poor woman scared for her life, unable to get the press to publish where Maxine Carr is not living, just by looking at tabloid articles and various websites you have the sickening feeling that some would get the idea to start asking every council across the land to deny that Carr is living in their locality if the tight protection awarded to Carr was loosened. My advice to her and others hounded by idiots across the country is to start their own blogs, preferably on American web hosts - put photographs of yourself up, comparing yourself with Carr, as well as publishing your address and recounting what you've been subjected to - not only will it elicit sympathy, but it would be the best response to those using the most modern technology available to drag us back to the dark ages of the witch-hunts. At the time of Carr's injunction being granted, the Independent said that the need for her to seek one was "a sad reflection on the viciousness of certain sections of British society". If anything, the viciousness of this septic isle and its gutter press is getting even worse, with terrible consequences for us all.

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"Witch-hunt" is the word! This is an excellent article. It's amazing how people given half a chance -- mainly the complicitness of others -- will pick a target and pursue it against all reason!

On the contrary Mick, no, they do not, and your comment, even if accurate which I doubt, has disappeared as a result.

if huntley did not do it, the system is massively corrupt

I don't think huntley did it.

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