Beckham Appeals For Missing Girls To Go Home

Fears were growing tonight for the safety of two 10-year-old girls who vanished from a road near their homes almost 24 hours ago.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have not been seen since they went missing from Soham, Cambridgeshire, on Sunday evening.

The youngsters, who were both wearing replica David Beckham shirts, were seen walking at around 6.30pm but police say there have been no positive sightings since then and their families have not heard from them.

Jessica's mobile phone did not answer when rung and has since gone dead. Police say checks showed it was in Cambridgeshire when last connected to the call network.

It is thought the girls had been walking towards the centre of Soham to buy sweets.

The youngsters, who are best friends and in the same class at St Andrews Primary School in Soham, had been playing at Holly's house.

Their parents today made emotional appeals for help in finding them at a police news conference in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

Mr and Mrs Wells said they thought the girls were in Holly's bedroom but when they checked at about 8.30pm on Sunday there was no sign of them.

"Their disappearance is incredibly out of character. We are extremely concerned," said Inspector Simon Causer, who is leading the search.

"They have not been missing before. They have taken no change of clothes.

"Both were wearing replica Manchester United shirts. Both Beckham. Both with the No 7 on the back. Somebody must have seen these girls in a small place like Soham.

"Jessica has a telephone but at this moment it is switched off.

"Arrangements have been made to top up the credits and we would say 'Jessica, if you are listening, if you are watching, if you are reading this, switch on your phone and call'."

Police said the girls were last seen by someone who knows them walking along Sand Street towards the centre of the village at about 6.30pm on Sunday.

He said both girls had access to the Internet and arrangements were being made for experts to check their computers to see whether they could have arranged to meet someone they had met through e-mail.

Checks were also being made on known local child offenders and Cambridgeshire police were in touch with other forces to see whether their disappearance could be linked to any other crime.

Mr Causer said none of those of lines of inquiry had produced any significant leads.

Holly's father Kevin, 38, sat alongside her mother Nicola, 35, to answer questions from reporters.

He said the girls had been playing in and out of the house while the family enjoyed a barbecue.

"They were in and out and we were having a family barbecue and when we went to check on them they were not there," said Mr Wells, who is captain of Ely and Haddenham Cricket Club.

"From the way they were walking it is possible they were going to buy confectionery. They do that and make that journey quite regularly.

"Holly would have about £3 a week pocket money for sweets."

Asked whether he thought the girls might be frightened to get in touch, he added: "I would not have thought so in Holly's case because they are both very bright."

Mrs Wells said: "Our friends went to leave at about 8.30pm and we mentioned how quiet the girls had been.

"When we went to check on them they had gone."

Jessica's father Leslie, 51, added: "Come home, all is forgiven. She is bright, intelligent and knows how to use the phone. It is just a complete mystery as to why she has not phoned us. It is so out of character."

His wife Sharon, 43, a learning support assistant at her daughter's school, added: "She is not streetwise. But she is not stupid."

Holly's aunt, Lesley Allen, added: "She is the most sensible well-behaved 10-year-old you could imagine. The other girl is very similar.

"There is no reason to think there is any sort of problem. They just would not have run away. They are too sensible. They have not been in any sort of trouble.

"They would not stay out late. If Holly was going to be a minute late she would phone home."

Geoff Fisher, head teacher at St Andrew's school, added: "They are both extremely nice girls. Intelligent girls.

"They get on well and they are close friends although they have other friends.

"This is completely out of character. I would say that they would be sensible enough to ask for help if they were in trouble."

There had been no problems recently with strangers approaching children near the school, he said.

Pupils were regularly warned about the dangers of talking to strangers and about the dangers of swimming or playing near rivers or dykes, he added.

Mr Causer said: "We are keeping a completely open mind and following up every line of inquiry we can think of.

"We are in the Fens and water is everywhere so that has to be one line of inquiry.

"It is strange that there have been no sightings of them.

"The fact that the phone was traced to a Cambridgeshire area may not mean anything. It could have been discarded.

"We would urge anyone who finds a mobile phone anywhere in Cambridgeshire to contact us immediately.

"Likewise we need to hear from anyone who thinks they might have seen these girls or have some knowledge about their whereabouts."

Specialists search teams would now be brought in as the hunt for the girls intensified.

As well as their Manchester United shirts, Holly and Jessica were also both wearing dark trousers and Nike trainers when they vanished.

Both girls are about 4ft 6in tall and slim and both white. Holly has blonde hair and Jessica brown hair.

Jessica enjoys swimming and football and plays for a local under-11 soccer team.

She likes S-Club 7 and Steps and her family describe as her as a "tomboy with an inquisitive nature".

Jessica has two sisters, Rebecca, 16, and Alison, 14.

Holly is a majorette and plays the cornet and also enjoys singing and dancing.

She was an attendant to the Carnival Queen at last year's Soham carnival.

Her family describe her as "bubbly and outgoing".

Her mother Nicola is a secretary and her father Kevin a contracts cleaner. She has a brother, Oliver, 12.

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