Recommended second chance
Soham: A Parents' Tale
Ruth Gray is the producer/director of Soham: A Parents' Tale, a new documentary following Kevin and Nicola Wells, the parents of Holly Wells, as they cope in the aftermath of their daughter’s murder 10 years ago. The one-off film speaks to the family about their loss, their memories of the events of a decade ago, and shows how they’ve move forward with their lives…
What can viewers expect from the documentary Soham: A Parents' Tale?
It’s ultimately quite an uplifting story, which is not what I was expecting when I first came onto the project. And it’s really not a crime documentary. Kevin and Nicola say that they feel like Ian Huntley took one member of their family and they weren’t going to allow him to take any more. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still have bad days, because they do. Christmas is always a particularly bad time for them. But they have busy lives, they still live in Soham and they’re surrounded by this very, very close-knit group of family and friends. So there’s always something going on.
We also meet their son, Oliver, who is now 22.
Yes, and the three of them are just so close. Oliver’s just bought his first house with his girlfriend, around the corner from his mum and dad. He and Kevin work together running their family window cleaning business. Kevin says that Oliver was their salvation because they had to carry on and provide a happy, stable and safe environment for him to grow up in. Being in their company makes you feel very humble because they invite you into their house and it’s warm and friendly and funny. Kevin’s got a brilliant sense of humour. What happened to them is truly horrific but they just wouldn’t allow themselves to be distressed all of the time.
How much does Oliver remember about his sister?
He doesn’t remember a great deal of the details, but then I wasn’t seeking that really, because it’s not a film about the detail of necessarily what happened. He talks about missing her and he says some lovely things about how he wishes he could see her now and wonders what she would have looked like. He says, ‘It’s always going to be strange because there’s only three of us and there used to be a fourth.’ I think there’s a big bit missing in his life.
Is there a presence of Holly in the house?
Oh yes. Everywhere in the house. It’s not a shrine to Holly, by any means. But there are photographs of her everywhere. The house is called Holly House, and there’s a holly bush outside.
Unfortunately, the tragedy put Soham on the map. Does that make it hard for them to go about their daily business?
It really did to begin with, and they found that very difficult. Some people didn’t know what to say, so they’d cross the road to avoid them. They told us that when they went on holiday in those first few years, people would still be talking about the Soham murders. So if they met another couple on the beach and were asked where they were from, they used to lie and say they were from Newmarket because they knew that if they said they were from Soham, they’d be asked if they knew Holly and Jessica. I think that now, if Kevin and Nicola go to places outside of Soham, people don’t recognise them. Within Soham, everybody knows them. Plus Kevin’s been a business owner in that village since he was about 17. They were both born and bred there, so they were already quite well known as a couple. I think they probably feel safer in Soham than anywhere else. There they can be Kevin and Nicola and not Holly Wells’ parents.
Why do you think they wanted to take part in this film?
They want to project this positive message that when the worst possible thing imaginable happens, you can get through it. That’s something they very much wanted to come away with by the end of the film.
And to highlight the work of the charity, Grief Encounter, which is enormously important to them. It came along at the right time for them. They were contacted by Shelley Gilbert, about a year after Holly’s death. She had written a book about bereavement, and it really helped Kevin and Nicola with their own grieving process. Shelley wanted to set up a charity and Kevin was keen to use his experience to get this thing off the ground.
Kevin is now their patron, and he and Nicola do a lot of work for them. In the programme, they go to a workshop session and meet lots of other families who have suffered a loss of a member — children whose parents have died and parents whose children have died. Kevin ran the London Marathon for them this year and raised £14,000. We filmed that and it was a tough day for him but, despite suffering some injuries in training, he was committed to making it round the course.
The documentary also focuses on the setting up of the Police National Database…
Yes, it’s quite an important sequence in the film. It was set up as a direct result of the failure in information sharing about Ian Huntley that happened between different police forces. If it had been in place earlier, Ian Huntley would never have got a job at that school. That’s the change. And I think that both the Wells and Chapman families feel that this has been an enormously positive thing to come out of the fact that they lost their daughters. This new system is saving lives now. And for Kevin and Nicola, that’s massively important for them to have this positive legacy after Holly’s death.
Some victims of crime are offered the chance to confront the guilty party. Do you think Kevin and Nicola would want to visit Ian Huntley in prison?
My instinct would be that they absolutely wouldn’t want to, because in the same way that they’re very focused on being positive in their own lives, they also haven’t allowed themselves to think about him — bar being enormously relieved that he’s in prison for the rest of his life. They don’t care about him and what happens to him. He’s in prison and that’s all that matters.
How are they going to mark the 10th anniversary?
They’re going to go away on holiday. They do that most years, because they always say that although they don’t miss her any more one day to the next, the pain is always there. And anniversaries are something that we in the media create. And Christmas and anniversaries are still the hardest time of the year. So they quite often go away around the anniversary to just be on their own.