Thompson: "traumatic and absorbing"
Jeremy Thompson, who anchored Sky News’s coverage from Soham for three days running, described the hunt for the missing schoolgirls as "one of the most traumatic and absorbing" news stories he had covered.
Thompson, who once worked as a reporter on the Cambridge Evening News, anchored the channel’s coverage from Soham for stretches of up to 12 hours from Thursday through to Saturday – when police announced the arrest of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr on suspicion of murder and later discovered two bodies seven miles from Soham.
"The weather was fiercely, stiflingly hot and it became more oppressive as the details of the story got worse with every twist and turn," he said. "It has been, and still is, a tragic story that has gripped the public imagination and it was such a small community that I think most journalists would have felt it more intensely too.
"Everyone has talked about a rollercoaster ride of emotion that people have been through since the girls’ disappearance and I think we have all sensed that."
The former US correspondent said that, while there were times during the drama when some people had preferred not to talk, the relationship between the press and the residents of Soham had been one of "mutual respect".
A number of people stopped to thank him for the sensitive tone of the channel’s coverage, Thompson said.
Sky News’s coverage of the weekend’s dramatic events peaked with an audience of just over one million on Sunday, when police announced they were certain that the bodies found on Saturday were those of the two girls.
While trying to piece together details of the route taken by the girls on the day they disappeared, Thompson interviewed both Huntley and his fiance Carr.
The interviews were given before the couple went voluntarily with police to give witness statements and were broadcast following their arrest after Sky News took legal advice.
Carr had shown Thompson cards sent to her by Holly and the presenter also got the mobile phone numbers from the couple.
"When I heard that they were back after the initial questioning I called them and had a brief conversation," said Thompson.
"They didn’t have much to say, but four-and-a-half hours later they were arrested on suspicion of murder.
"There aren’t many cases where I’ve chatted to someone like that just before they’ve been arrested. It was another unusual twist to the story."
Sky News pulled their crew and four satellite trucks from Soham on Sunday night after the girls’ bodies were discovered and their families issued a statement asking the press to respect their privacy. "One thing that summed it up was that the media agreed to retreat to allow people to mourn and to grieve in private," said Thompson.
"Most journalists thought it was a good time for us to go and it was a sign of the mutual respect that had grown between us that we all agreed to pull back, because to have stayed on in great numbers would have been a possible violation when people of the town already felt violated."
By Julie Tomlin