Soham school head welcomes report

The principal who hired Ian Huntley as a caretaker without checking his references today hoped that tougher safeguards will be put in place to stop such a tragedy ever happening again.

The principal who hired Ian Huntley as a caretaker without checking his references today hoped that tougher safeguards will be put in place to stop such a tragedy ever happening again.

It was only after Huntley’s conviction for killing Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells that previous sex allegations, including four suspected rapes, emerged.

“I am naturally disappointed that information held by both forces (Cambridgeshire and Humberside police) on Huntley’s background was not disclosed at the time of his appointment,” said Howard Gilbert, principal of Soham Village College.

“I hope no school or headteacher ever again has to endure what we have experienced over the last two years.”

Mr Gilbert admitted the failure to check his references was “not in line with best practice” and that he “accepted” Sir Michael’s comments about Soham Village College appointment of Huntley.

Huntley applied for the post armed with open references headed “To whom it may concern” but they were not verified despite Education Department guidance that it was not good practice to accept them on face value.

Mr Gilbert said: “As I have said throughout, the interview process gave us no concerns about Huntley’s ability to do the job. He – along with the other candidates – was specifically asked how he would deal with the unwanted attentions of a female student, and his response impressed us.

“The references were subsequently found to be genuine and contained nothing which would have made us change our minds about employing him.”

There was now a desperate need for the Soham community to be allowed to withdraw from the unwanted gaze of the worlds’ press and return to normal.

Mr Gilbert said: “While nobody will ever forget the impact this tragedy has had – and will continue to have – on Holly and Jessica’s families – I hope we can now draw a line under it and concentrate on our foremost priority, to provide the best possible education for students at Soham Village College.

“The Soham community must also be allowed to return to a more normal way of life.”

Students, families, staff and governors were doing an “extraordinary” job in trying to maintain a “business as usual” approach to life in such harrowing circumstances.

He thanked them for their support and noted that Ofsted described the College as “outstanding” when it was inspected just over a year ago.

Mr Gilbert welcomed the thoroughness and speed of Sir Michael’s inquiry.

He hoped its findings would “an invaluable framework” on which the various agencies can build to minimise the risk of anything like this happening again.

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