On the 4th August 2002 at 2030 two children, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman – both aged 10 were reported as missing from their home in Soham, Cambridgeshire. Police are informed and on the 5th August at dawn the search resumes with Police and a helicopter with thermal imaging. At 0900 Police issue a public appeal.

Following appeals in the media and searching by local people the disappearance is reported nationwide and IRC Eastern Region offers assistance via the Police HQ in Huntingdon and also through PoLSA.

The team arrives at 2130 and, after a briefing at the mobile incident room the team were tasked with a search of 3km of road side and ditches on the A10 at Little Thetford where there had been an earlier sighting of the girls. By this time all public searchers had been sent home and only the Police and IRC were to search during the night. The team searched for 3 hours along with 2 police officers as our local guides.

The team then located to Ely Police station at 0100 where the incident room had been relocated.

Information about the search from The Guardian, Wednesday 7 August 2002

The anguish of the previous 40 hours was ingrained on Kevin and Nicola Wells’ faces yesterday as they braved the cameras to appeal for help in finding their 10-year-old daughter Holly and her best friend, Jessica.

The disappearance on Sunday night of the couple’s bubbly, outgoing daughter and her best friend, 10-year-old Jessica Chapman, has shocked the Cambridgeshire village.

At around 8.30pm, the Wellses, wondering why the friends – reunited that afternoon after Jessica returned from a family holiday in Minorca – were so quiet, sent their 12-year-old son Oliver to look for them, and their torment began.

Cambridgeshire police were called at 10pm and immediately began their search operation. By Monday 100 officers were involved, making door-to-door inquiries, scouring the fields around the village, setting up a Holmes system – used for every major incident to pinpoint links with other crimes throughout the country; and printing posters appealing for information.

Tracker dogs have been called in; police divers brought in to help search the dykes and ditches of the surrounding, sodden Fens; and six members of the International Rescue Corps – more used to hunting for missing earthquake victims – enlisted to scour the fields at night with thermal imaging. No trace of the girls has emerged, and efforts have been hampered by two nights of torrential rain.

As David Willimott, an IRC volunteer who has freed earthquake victims in Turkey and found survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, said: “The weather’s been a big problem with the dykes and in the marshlands, particularly when we’re working at night.”

Detectives have also been checking both girls’ computers to look for contacts made on the internet, and tracking calls made before their disappearance on Jessica’s mobile phone.

After a de-brief they were sent to search approx 4 sq km of marsh, ditches and fields adjacent to Soham near to the girls’ homes. By now it was raining and some of the conditions were on difficult terrain. The team concentrated on track searching, that is footpaths, dykes, ditches and hedgerows to approximately 2 metres each side, detailed sweep searches were to be done in the daylight.

At 0530 the team reported back and were told to get some rest and report back in again after a Police brief at 1000. The team was put up by a Travel Lodge in Ely as a donation to the Corps.

After this break the team returned to Soham. At this point it was clear that the investigation was taking a different tack and IRC were put on hold awaiting instructions from a new investigation team that was setting up a major incident room. At 1300 the team were stood down and thanked for its efforts.

The Team

A six person team was mobilised –

  • Paul Wooster
  • Mark Wilson-North
  • Dave Willimott
  • Ginny Wilson-North
  • Rachel Oliver
  • Stephen Barnett

They took with them a Thermal Image Camera, dry suits and life jackets.

Paul Wooster
Team Leader