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Soham out while jury visits

The community has rallied round to give pupils an away day during Old Bailey trial. Karen Thornton reports

Jurors from Old Bailey court number one will walk through Soham's schools on Monday.

But as they tour locations associated with the murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, many of the pupils, parents and staff hope to be having a day out.

With Soham village college and St Andrew's primary closed for the jurors visit, headteachers have urged families to take children out of the Cambridgeshire town for the day.

And the generosity of local and national organisations means Soham's youngsters will be able to visit museums, cathedrals, bowling alleys and swimming pools for free or at discount rates.

West Anglia Great Northern railway has offered 1,000 free travel warrants for anywhere on its network, combined with "two for the price of one" offers on London attractions.

Ely cathedral, which hosted last year's memorial service for the 10-year-olds, plans to open its doors for tours and brass rubbings.

And Duxford Imperial War Museum, which is usually free for children, is dropping its pound;8.50 charge for accompanying adults.

Tracey Woods, Duxford's marketing and PR manager, said: "We are honoured to be asked to do this. It's our way of supporting part of our local community, and that's very important to us."

Barry Morris, chairman of the Soham's Windmills under-fives playgroup, initiated the day out by contacting Newmarket swimming pool and Strikes, the local bowling alley in Ely.

He said: "Soham has had enough, we decided let's have something positive.

Let's not make Monday the-day-the-court-came-to-Soham, but the day the kids had a good day out.

"A lot of parents faced with an unscheduled school closure day are going to have to take time off work, which is costly, so we thought let's draw on local goodwill and make the day out work."

Howard Gilbert, head of Soham Village College, where Holly and Jessica's former classmates are now Year 7 pupils, has encouraged parents not to be in town. He will spend the day with his own family.

"The Soham Day Out is a real community response. It's another example of the amazing goodwill (towards Soham) - it helps just knowing people are being so kind and generous," he said.

Tim Alban Jones, vice-chair of governors at St Andrew's and the local Anglican vicar, said the day out was a "marvellous idea". But he was not sure what he would do on Monday.

"I have to balance whether I will be needed in Soham as the vicar or whether as a father I should take my three children for a day out."

Geoff Fisher, head of St Andrew's, said the schools were keeping a low profile. adding: "The children, parents and education authority have been very supportive and positive all the way through."

Sharon Chapman Jessica's mother, is still a classroom assistant at St Andrew's.

The support mechanisms set up after the murders last summer - helplines, support groups and advisers - are still in place, and expecting calls as the court case dredges up fears and concerns.

Letters to parents from the schools have warned that "the trial might bring forth some issues that could potentially be unexpected and distressing to some".

And the county's educational psychology service has distributed a leaflet to parents offering advice on what to say to children if they ask difficult questions about the murder case (see box).

Mr Gilbert said: "We don't know what's about to come, and that causes some anxiety. I have no doubt there will be people who need extra support, but how many staff and pupils I don't know."

He added: "This case is about the truth and it's so important for the community to know the truth, as far as we can. Maybe some line can be drawn by that coming out."

See Cambridgeshire county council's helpline number is 01223 718623


Advice from Cambridgeshire educational psychology service for parents

* You are not a failure if you don't know what to say. There is no "correct" answer to some of the difficult questions children ask.

* Children are individuals and will react differently to distressing news.

Take into account their age, maturity and level of understanding.

* Be honest - avoidance and deception can confuse and worry children.

* If you are unsure why something happened, say this to your child - and try and find out more for them.

* Some children may just want someone to listen to their anxieties or worries. Make space and time to listen.

* Use clear language - saying someone has "gone away" may be more confusing for a child.

* Being calm and controlled will reassure your child.

* Be aware you may have to repeat explanations or go over events again.

* Stick to normal family routines.

* Try to avoid continuous media coverage - watch one or two news bulletins as a family.

* If children are distressed over a long period of time, contact health and education professionals for help.

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