Ian Huntley had been giving evidence for just under three hours when his counsel, Stephen Coward QC, asked him to sum up his feelings. “Well, Mr Huntley, here you are in the witness box at No 1 court at the Old Bailey charged with two offences of murder,” said Mr Coward. “Could you try to convey to the members of the jury your overall feelings about all this?” The 29-year-old former school caretaker paused for five seconds. Then the words came out quickly, through sniffs and stifled sobs.

“I wish I could turn back the clock, I wish I could do things differently, I just wish none of this had ever happened. I’m sorry for what’s happened and I’m ashamed of what I did.

“I accept that I’m responsible for the deaths of Holly and Jessica but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I sincerely wish there was.”

During the previous two hours and 54 minutes Mr Huntley had painted a vivid picture of how he says Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman came to be in his home on a Sunday afternoon last summer and how he claims they met their deaths.

He explained to the jury how he invited them in after Holly had a nosebleed, how Holly had sat on his bed, how they ended up in the bathroom.

Sipping frequently from a glass of water, pausing often before answering a question and sometimes stuttering as he tried to get a word out, Mr Huntley gave his account of how he may have accidentally bumped into Holly as he handed her a tissue to try to stem the flow of blood from her nose and how he saw her fall into the bath.

He described how he had tried to stop Jessica screaming, “You pushed her!” by putting his hand over her mouth. She fell to the floor lifeless and when he pulled Holly out of the bath she too appeared to be dead.

Mr Huntley told the jury this was the first time his former girlfriend, who is accused of assisting him by providing him with an alibi, had heard his version of events.

It was also the first time the parents of the 10-year-olds, who sat in the back of the Old Bailey courtroom, had heard Mr Huntley’s story in his own words.

Mr Huntley claimed he suffered a memory loss after he and Ms Carr were arrested. But he said he was determined to recall the sequence of events “so I could get to the trial and tell Holly and Jessica’s parents what had happened”.

And so the girls’ parents listened as Mr Huntley said that his next memory was of himself sitting on the landing next to a pool of sick. “I was thinking of calling the police,” he said: “But I, I, I didn’t believe what had happened. I kept thinking ‘How do I explain this to the police?’. If you can’t believe what has happened yourself, how are you going to expect the police to believe it either?”

He denied sexually assaulting the girls. Mr Coward asked: “Did you touch either girl, or try to, in any sexual way at all?” Huntley replied: “No, not at all.”

Mr Huntley gave a harrowing account of how he disposed of the bodies of the friends. He said he dumped them in the ditch at Lakenheath, Suffolk, where they were found 13 days later, as it grew dark on Sunday evening. He cut the girls’ clothes off and attempted to destroy the bodies by pouring petrol into the ditch and igniting it.

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