Tragedy leaves schools in limbo

As Soham tries to come to terms with the double murder, Joe Clancy reports on preparations for a new term in the town

SCHOOL managers shattered by the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have begun to prepare for the return of teachers and pupils.

The new school year is due to start on September 9 and governors met on Monday to discuss how to cope with the tragic events that have torn St Andrew's primary in Soham apart.

The Reverend Tim Alban Jones, vice-chairman of governors, said: "We discussed how we might start putting the life of the school back together again. It will be a very difficult process. We made a start by sharing with each other our feelings about the dreadful things that have happened."

The Church of England primary and the neighbouring secondary, Soham Village College, remain sealed off while police carry out extensive inquiries.

Ian Huntley, the college's caretaker, has been charged with murdering the two girls, whose bodies were found on Saturday, two weeks after they disappeared. His girlfriend Maxine Carr, a former teaching assistant at St Andrew's, has been accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Doubts remain that either school will be open in time for the start of the new term.

Mr Alban Jones said: "We hope very much that term will begin on time. It is difficult to make specific contingency plans until we know when we are going to open.

"The staff are going to need a lot of support, and the local education authority have been marvellous."

Cambridgeshire County Council said an emergency helpline set up for families in Soham was just the first step to be taken to help the schools overcome the trauma.

Council spokesman Bob Pearson said: "We have not finalised our plans yet but the level of support will be enormous."

Its strategy group has been in regular contact with Surrey County Council, which dealt with the aftermath of the disappearances of Milly Dowler and Sarah Payne. "They have been incredibly helpful," said Mr Pearson.

He said the headteachers of both schools, Geoff Fisher at the primary and Howard Gilbert at the secondary, were "absolutely devastated" by the deaths.

On Monday a team of 15 specially trained educational psychologists and social workers began taking calls on the emergency hotline. Working in teams of four in three-hour shifts, they had taken 160 calls in the first two and a half days. Many were from grieving children seeking reassurance about their safety.

Team leader Jenny Pardoe said: "Children are saying they feel very frightened and do not know who they can trust. A lot of parents are asking how they can talk to their children about what has happened." The 8am to 8pm hotline is expected to stay open for at least a month.

Pupils who attend Soham Village College were due to collect their GCSE exam results from the library in the town yesterday while the school remains closed.

A special service of remembrance for Holly and Jessica for use in assemblies throughout the country when children return to school has been published by the Church of England society.

The hotline telephone number is 01223 718623 Leader, 12 Stranger danger, 20

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