The arrival of 500 journalists was initially a ‘novelty’
A BBC correspondent who covered the disappearance of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells described how the attitude of Soham residents towards the media changed “within minutes” of the hunt for the girls becoming a murder investigation.
Clarence Mitchell, who was in the Cambridgeshire town for the duration of the 13-day hunt for the girls, said that up until “the worst fears” were confirmed the media had been welcomed in Soham because they were seen as part of the solution to the problem.
Speaking at a discussion organised by the trauma organisation, Dart Centre, Europe, Mitchell described how a pub landlord who had welcomed the crew and offered them “drinks on the house” became hostile after it was confirmed the two 10-year-olds had been murdered.
“The minute we went back after reporting the first scenes there were signs saying ‘no media, no press, go away’,” said Mitchell. “We were immediately ostracised by the people of Soham and within two minutes we became the vultures who were gloating over it.”
Mitchell said this had been particularly “hurtful”, not only because the landlord had been so welcoming beforehand, but because journalists working in Soham – “even the newspaper hacks” – had not been unaffected by the tragedy.
“It was one of the most emotional and shocking cases I’d been involved with,” he said. “We had tried to tell ourselves we were there to try to help but afterwards we had the feeling that we had outlived our usefulness.”
Soham’s vicar, Tim Alban Jones, agreed the attitude of the people of Soham had changed after hopes of finding the girls alive faded. Describing the impact on the quiet market town of the arrival of more than 500 journalists, he said: “The hostility was to do with the passage of time.
There was novelty at first as it’s not a place where anything significant has happened for a while.
“Having the media there was somehow exciting and took the edge away from the horror of the fear that we had lost two of our girls.
“But it became a little too much,” he added, admitting there was now “unbridled hostility” towards the media among the people of Soham.
By Julie Tomlin