It's time for media to return last image of Soham girls

Ten years after the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Press Gazette is backing calls for the media industry to stop publishing the iconic last photo of the schoolgirls.

Freelance journalist Rob McGibbon was this week urging industry leaders to act after reading a moving interview with the parents of Holly in the Mail on Sunday – in which they talked about their ongoing pain at the use of the photo.

The photo of the girls in their Manchester United football shirts was taken by mum Nicola Wells shortly before they disappeared. The girls were standing beneath a wall clock showing 5.04pm and it is believed that within an hour and a half they were killed.

In a poignant interview in last week’s Mail on Sunday by Sarah Oliver, Nicola referred to the photo and her desire to “reclaim” it for what it was – a happy moment frozen in time.

She said: ‘The police asked for an up-to-date shot and here was one that was just hours old. Then it became the symbol of the Soham murders and it still accompanies stories about Huntley in prison and Maxine Carr having a child.

“It is our last picture of our daughter, yet it represents something evil – that is exquisitely painful. We would love to reclaim that image for ourselves. Being unable to do so is, I think, the one last thing we have to deal with…”

McGibbon has approached the editors of several national newspapers and already has implicit backing for agreeing not to use the photo. He is also contacting leading broadcasters, agencies and Google.

Press Gazette today lends its weight to his campaign by urging all our readers to respect the wishes of Nicola Wells and remove the photo from their archives.

McGibbon said: ‘I was incredibly moved by the interview with Kevin and Nicola Wells. It struck me that, in these digital times, it is would be fairly simple for everyone to stop using that photo.

“The photo was only released in an effort to find the children. I have been told by a major agency that in the spirit of copyright in such cases, the photo should only ever have been used in connection with the search. And it is, essentially, still Nicola Wells’ copyright.

“If the national newspapers get on board and indicate that it is no longer morally right to use that photo, then I am sure all other publications, broadcasters and websites will fall into line. All we need is critical mass to make this happen.

“I know that in the scheme of this tragedy this is a tiny matter, but if by doing this it can ease a tiny piece of unnecessary pain for the parents of those girls, then why not do it?”

UPDATE: 1pm Friday, 27 July

Press Gazette asked media lawyer Christina Michalos, author of The Law of Photography and Digital Images, what the legal position is.

She said: “The copyright in the photograph belongs to Nicola Wells who took it. By giving the photograph to the police to assist with the search for their children, in effect amounted to a free licence to the police and the media to publish the photograph. But it was clearly implied that publication should only be in connection with that search and any criminal investigation. It would be a big leap legally to suggest that all rights in the photograph were waived permanently. Strictly, publication today would require the permission of the copyright owner who is entitled to refuse or ask for a licence fee.

“The most practical approach would be to formally notify media organisations that firstly, the licence was granted for a limited purpose which has long since concluded and secondly, any future publication requires the express permission of Nicola Wells as copyright owner. If after receiving notification, the media continue to publish the photograph, that would be copyright infringement.”

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