Written by Nicci Gerrard, who sat through the entire trial of murderer Ian Huntley – the school caretaker – and that of his girlfriend Maxine Carr who was convicted of perverting the course of justice, this book is a wider look at the modern phenomenon of “conspicuous compassion”. Gerrard, a former feature writer for The Observer who covered the trials of Rosemary West and of Harold Shipman, details the collective mourning that gripped England during the two week search for the girls in the August of 2002. Gerrard cites Patrick West’s book Conspicuous Compassion (“…our culture of ostentatious caring is about feeling good, not doing good, and illustrates not how altruistic we have become, but how selfish…”, says West) and how society celebrates psychological pain and needs to “feel” by grieving in public (think Princess Diana).
Soham has a significance for me in that I arrived back in England to start life with my soon-to-be husband a few days after Holly and Jessica had gone missing. The famous photo of the girls in their matching Manchester United tops, taken the afternoon they were murdered, was a constant presence on the television news. The weather was hot and each day you woke wondering if the girls would be found.
Huntley is serving a life sentence for the murders and his ex-girlfriend Maxine Carr, who was one of the most reviled women in Britain – an almost modern-day Myra Hindley – served an 18-month sentence and has been granted a rare, lifetime injunction to protect her new identity. Carr was not involved in the murders but lied about her whereabouts on the evening of the murders to protect Huntley.
One of the most powerful observations for me from this book was this about the media:
“Everytime you turned on the television , it seemed that there was a reporter standing in the centre of Soham, telling us once more there was nothing to say…”
Soham: A Story of Our Times by Nicci Gerrard is published by Short Books.
Gerrard also writes psychological thrillers with her husband Sean French under the name Nicci French.