Meeting your father for the first time in adulthood would be, for anyone, fraught with anxieties and uncertainties.
Will I like him? Will he like me? Will he reject me? The questions are legion.
To Samantha Bryan, however, these considerations matter not. As she revealed in an interview with The Mail on Sunday seven years ago, Samantha’s biological father is Ian Huntley, whose murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire in 2002 horrified the nation.
Samantha, 25, has no desire to get to know her father or like him or be liked in return. To her, he is a monster. But today she is explaining why she wants to meet him, just the once. Foremost, because she is seeking answers for the sake of Holly and Jessica’s parents. And also to bury her own demons.
She is hoping Huntley will finally give her not the deeply harrowing but still-sanitised version of events he served up at his trial, but the truth about what really happened to the ten-year-old friends, whose image, in red Manchester United jerseys, became imprinted on the nation’s consciousness 21 years ago.
Samantha Bryan (pictured) is the daughter of double child killer Ian Huntley. She has made the remarkable request to meet him to find out what really happened to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
Holly Wells (right) and Jessica Chapman (left), both 10, were killed by Huntley in 2002 in a double murder which horrified the nation
Samantha’s mother Katie (pictured with Huntley) had left Huntley while still pregnant with her daughter, after being subjected to an appalling catalogue of abuse
She has written a powerful letter to her father at HMP Frankland in Durham, where he is midway through a 40-year sentence. ‘If my existence means anything to you, I’m pleading with you to finally reveal the whole truth about the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman,’ she told him. ‘It’s time that everyone was given some peace and closure.’
In court, Huntley, now 49, said both girls died accidentally, claiming Holly drowned in his bath and that he inadvertently suffocated Jessica while trying to stifle her screams. But in 2018 he confessed to deliberately killing Jessica to stop her from raising the alarm. He still insists Holly’s death was an accident.
In her mind’s eye, Samantha has already conjured up their encounter: entering the room, pulling up a chair, registering his every facial movement, hearing his voice, studying his hands – the hands that ended the lives of two children. It makes her feel sick. Steeling herself, she knows she will have to draw deeply on her reserves of courage. She hopes he will too.
Time, she feels, is against her. She fears he may take his secrets to the grave after suffering health problems and being subject to violent attacks in jail. He has also attempted suicide.
‘I’m begging him to find the courage to finally tell the truth,’ she says. ‘I have asked to meet face-to-face so he can tell me in his own words.’
She first discovered that Huntley was her father when she was 14 – by an extraordinary quirk of chance. She was asked to work on a school project on murderers – she was given Huntley to research – and it was while looking online that she saw an image of herself.
She said: ‘I clicked on it and recognised the dress I was wearing and remembered that day. The story said I was Ian Huntley’s daughter. It was like being thumped in the chest. I began to shake, I couldn’t stop the tears. I ran out of class, home to my mother and she confirmed it was the truth. But she told me she would never let him harm me and he would never get out.’
Huntley is midway through a 40-year sentence at HMP Frankland in Durham. Here, he is pictured being interviewed by police in August 2002 after the girls went missing
Huntley is pictured sitting his his car outside his home on August 8, 2002. He used the car to go and hide their bodies near RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, six miles away, and later returned to set fire to them
Even more distressing was learning of how Huntley subjected her mother Katie – who fell pregnant with Samantha aged just 15 – to terrifying violence before making her pregnant. They split when Samantha was born and she remarried.
Since her discovery, nearly every aspect of Samantha’s life has been poisoned by the Soham murders.
‘I’ve undergone counselling and it has impacted everything from my jobs to relationships,’ she says. ‘I have suffered constant nightmares. People still stop me in the street and say, “Your father is a monster” or “I know who your dad is”, so by meeting him I have nothing to lose.
‘The main comment that I used to get was, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” which has always cut very deeply because I am the absolute opposite. When I was younger I worried that everyone would think that and I would become isolated. Even with relationships, I’ve had people leave me and make comments about him [Huntley] and my connection to him. It was hard.
‘From the moment I discovered the connection he has become a bogeyman, like the Yorkshire Ripper or Fred West.’
Samantha, who is single, lives in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, and is training to be an administrator. She says she wants to ‘know for myself’ if her father feels any remorse. ‘I want him to tell the truth, so I can pass that on to the families of Holly and Jessica as they are very much on my mind.
Samantha (pictured) says she wants to ‘know for myself’ if her father feels any remorse for what he did to the girls
School caretaker Ian Huntley (pictured), 45, was sentenced to two life terms over the murders
‘Knowing their families have never been given the truth causes me profound sadness, I think about it far more than I should.
‘I hope that he will find it within his heart to open up. I want to know what he’d say when I sit in front of him, to be given that chance.
‘Nothing can ever change what has happened. I cannot think in terms of forgiveness. How can anyone forgive him?’
How much solace a full and frank confession would bring the parents of the two girls is hard to gauge. In a 2003 interview with the MoS, Holly’s parents Kevin and Nicola Wells said his cowardly refusal to tell the truth had left them in a never-ending torment of uncertainty as to what really happened in their daughter’s final minutes. They had many questions, the kind which – unanswered – can eat away at one’s soul.
‘Did he try to imprison one or both?’ said Kevin. ‘Did he sexually assault one and cause a scuffle: both Holly and Jessica would have gone to the other’s rescue – they were fierce and confident little girls.’
At the time Kevin reached this conclusion: ‘All these things we can never know because only one person is sure and I will never, ever believe a word that cold, calculating pervert utters. He took our daughter from us and lied and lied and lied.’
Huntley (left) was convicted of the murders after pleading not guilty. His girlfriend at the time Maxine Carr (right) gave him a false alibi. She was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ jail for perverting the course of justice and issued with a new identity on release
Samantha was just four years old when Huntley killed Holly and Jessica. They had been at a family barbecue at Holly’s home on August 4, 2002, wearing matching football shirts, before walking to a nearby shop for sweets. Then they vanished.
For 13 days their frantic parents prayed and police launched one of the biggest inquiries ever mounted. Thousands searched for the girls and Soham became a sombre, haunted town.
Throughout, Huntley, a caretaker at the girls’ school, and his partner, their teaching assistant Maxine Carr, gave endless media interviews appealing for the safe return of ‘two of the brightest, loveliest little girls in the world’.
Carr even showed off an end-of-term card the girls had sent her, covered in loving comments and kisses. A wan-faced Huntley befriended the media because he had a sinister motive: his need to know the details of the police inquiry. For the truth was that he had lured the girls into the home he shared with Carr, as they passed by. He has never fully revealed what took place there, but within an hour both girls were dead.
Then he hid their bodies near RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, six miles away, and later returned to set fire to them. Huntley was convicted of the murders after pleading not guilty. Carr gave him a false alibi. She was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ jail for perverting the course of justice and issued with a new identity on release.
Huntley will not be considered for release until he is 71. He is undoubtedly a target. In 2008 armed robber Damien Fowkes slashed his throat in Frankland, putting him in hospital, three years after murderer Mark Hobson threw boiling water over him in Wakefield Prison.
Samantha says: ‘I worry often that something will happen to him and no one will ever have closure.’
Huntley was 23 when he seduced Katie, then a schoolgirl in Grimsby. The relationship quickly turned abusive. Huntley raped her, forced her to eat cat food, chopped off her hair and threw her down the stairs when she was pregnant. As a baby, Samantha needed emergency open heart surgery – and her family have always blamed Huntley.
Sammy with her mother Katie who was raped by Huntley when she was 15-years-old
She says: ‘Sometimes, when I look at my scar, I think of what my mother went through. She told me I saved her, being pregnant with me gave her the strength to break free.
‘She said he did terrible, unspeakable things to her. I want him to say sorry – not that an apology will ever be enough – but to know there is some remorse means something.’
As well as securing answers for Holly and Jessica’s families, Samantha hopes meeting her father will assuage her own demons.
She says: ‘For years I’ve been haunted by the fear that a faceless monster would clamber through my bedroom window in the middle of the night or that he’d come and find me, or try to kill me when I was all alone.
‘My most recent nightmare was on Friday night. It was really detailed. His face is usually quite blurry, but this time it was vivid.
‘I’ve never heard his voice but in my dream he was shouting. He was trying to break into my nanna’s house. I woke up and I felt really sick. I thought: ‘I hope to god he never gets out.’ She adds: ‘I don’t feel like I have fully processed what has happened. I hope that by sitting in front of him it might enable me to let go of the nightmares and move forward with my life.’
Floral tributes left at a church in Soham after the bodies of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells were discovered
She is quick to stress that her own pain in no way compares to the ‘unimaginable agony’ endured by Holly and Jessica’s parents. ‘He has now reached halfway through his sentences, but Holly and Jessica were robbed of their future and so were their families.
‘I don’t think he should ever be freed. But even so, he should do the right thing. It can just bring a little bit of peace to all of those who have the agony of wondering what happened every day.’
To this day, Samantha’s family keeps a brown cardboard box of newspaper clippings from Huntley’s arrest and trial.
When Samantha turned 18, her mother decided she needed to know the full story. She recalls: ‘My mum called me up to her bedroom, motioning for me to sit next to her on her bed. She handed me the box which was taped shut and said, ‘Sammy, this is what I call the box of nightmares. I’ve kept all of this as I knew that one day you would need to know everything. The only way I’ve been able to deal with it is to try as hard as I could to shut all memories of him away.’
‘Inside were all the neatly-folded newspaper clippings, reporting every horrific detail of Huntley’s crimes and what he did to my mum.
‘I read them all. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. Then I put the lid back on the box, taped it shut and put it back under her bed.
‘Nowadays I try not to read stuff about him, or I turn over if it’s on the TV.
‘One day I may become a mother myself – and I want to be able to tell my daughter that while there is a monster in the family, he did meet me and did tell the truth and express deep remorse.
‘Perhaps expecting that to happen is a futile dream but it’s one that I’m willing to try.’