It was the murder that shocked a nation – two innocent girls killed by their school caretaker.
Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were just 10 when their lives were brutally cut short.
But their killer Ian Huntley was eventually snared by his own web of lies after making five key mistakes when the girls vanished.
Although police admit they also made mistakes of their own – releasing a poignant photo of Holly and Jessica in a desperate bid to find the girls alive.
The haunting image of the 10-year-olds in their matching Manchester United shirts, which Mirror Online has agreed not to use to avoid causing further distress to their families, honed press attention in on the case.
The photograph, which was published four days after the 10-year-olds disappeared, catapulted them onto front pages around the world and intensified public interest in the case.
Officers in the incident room were bombarded with thousands of phone calls leaving them overwhelmed.
Former Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Stevenson, who was made senior investigating officer 12 days after the girls disappeared, now thinks that the huge public interest put the investigation under pressure.
He explains: “I think it is easy to look back in hindsight and see that by using the media to publicise the disappearance of these two girls and spread it almost worldwide was a mistake.
"One of the first things I did when I took over was to refocus the investigation into the immediate locality.
“It is a standard phrase to clear the ground under your feet and I didn’t feel that that had been done.”
Speaking in a new Channel 5 documentary about the 2002 murders, Ian Huntley: 5 Mistakes That Caught A Killer, DCS Stevenson and his colleagues also reveal that Huntley could’ve got away with murder had he not made five key mistakes.
He was convicted of murder in December 2003 and jailed for life.
Huntley must serve at least 40 years behind bars.
His girlfriend, Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the girls' school, was found guilty of perverting the cause of justice and jailed for three-and-a-half years.
Here are Huntley's five errors that finally saw him face justice.
1 The press
At first the school caretaker had been reluctant to talk to the media, but soon started enjoying his moment in the limelight.
But that was to backfire on him as people in his old home town of Grimsby recognised him as a man who had been linked to previous sex attacks on women.
And his girlfriend Maxine Carr referred to the missing girls in the past tense when she was interviewed by reporters.
2. The phone
Jessica’s mobile phone had been switched off at 6.46pm on the day the girls disappeared.
But when it sent its goodbye signal to the phone mast it showed it was in the vicinity of Huntley’s house when it was powered down.
3. The lies
When Maxine Carr was first interviewed by police she insisted she had been with Huntley all of the day the girls disappeared.
But mobile phone records proved she was 100 miles away in Grimsby on that day.
4. The shirts
Huntley also rang alarm bells with Special Constable Sharon Gilbert when he asked her how long DNA lasted for.
She says: “I just thought it was strange, very strange.
"It is just not what a normal member of the public says to someone who is sat in uniform in front of them.”
Police believe that within hours of that conversation Huntley returned to the woodland where he had dumped the bodies to cut off the girls’ distinctive Manchester United shirts and tried to burn them in a bid to destroy any DNA evidence.
He then dumped the shirts in a bin at the school where he worked, covering them with another bag of rubbish.
He figured that police had already searched the school once and would not go back.
But he was mistaken.
DCS Stevenson says: “I shall never forget that moment that I received the phone call that they had found the girls’ clothes and they were in such a condition that there really was no hope of finding the girls alive. Quite clearly it was a watershed moment.”
5. The car
Huntley’s final mistake was after he had dumped the girls bodies in the woodland, he got new tyres put on his old Ford Fiesta.
This aroused suspicion again and when police tested chalk found underneath Huntley’s car it was an exact match for chalk on the lane leading to where the bodies were found.
Huntley was charged with the girls’ murders and after initially denying everything, changed his story and told the court that the girls died accidentally and he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
But the jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to serve a minimum of 40 years in prison.
DCS Stevenson says: “Has the perfect crime ever been committed? I doubt it.
"I think we would’ve got him convicted, I think we would have stood a good chance, but without those shirts it would've been a much weaker case.
"It may have been a manslaughter verdict instead of murder, and a much shorter sentence and Huntley would have been out now instead of facing a minimum of 40 years imprisonment which will take him until nearly his 70th birthday.”
- Five Mistakes that Caught a Killer is on Channel 5 at 10pm on Thursday May 23.
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