Trail of Guilt Adjudication
Siôn Jenkins’ legal team submitted a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Commission following the screening of the BBC1’s Trail of Guilt:Under Suspicion in January 2000. A hearing was held at the end of November 2000.
The BBC based its defence on the fact that Trail of Guilt was a narrative rather than investigative programme. It had given clear signals that it was ‘a reconstruction’ and ‘a tale of forensic detection’. Journalistic rigour seems not to have been a priority. The object of the programme was simply to tell the story of ‘how forensic science had resulted in prosecution’, evidently without much concern for the manner or quality of the exercise.
This implies that objective treatment of the subject matter was irrelevant. The fact is that viewers are entitled to expect a more responsible journalistic stance from the BBC.
It is, too, a matter for regret that the Broadcasting Standards Commission refused to consider part of the evidence submitted because an internal deadline had passed.
This evidence concerned two facts which were inaccurately presented in the programme.
- details concerning the blue fleece worn by Siôn Jenkins’on the day of the murder
- details concerning Siôn Jenkins’ qualifications
These factual inaccuracies in the programme constituted unfairness to Siôn Jenkins, in addition to those examples explicitly recognised by the Commission.
The Commission’s arbitrary regulations compounded the unfairness which was clearly demonstrated in Trail of Guilt.
BROADCASTING STANDARDS COMMISSION
Complaint about unjust or unfair treatment by Bindman & Partners (Solicitors) (“Bindmans”) on behalf of Mr Siôn Jenkins, submitted on 30 May 2000, about Trail of Guilt: Under Suspicion, broadcast by BBC1 on 18 January 2000
On 18 January 2000, BBC1 broadcast Trail of Guilt: Under Suspicion, which recounted the police investigation that led to the conviction of Mr Siôn Jenkins for the murder of his foster daughter, Billie-Jo Jenkins. Bindmans complained on behalf of Mr Jenkins to the Broadcasting Standards Commission that he had been treated unjustly or unfairly in the programme.
2. The Complaint
Bindmans complained that Mr Jenkins had been treated unjustly or unfairly in that the programme had presented a distorted analysis of the evidence and had ignored all of the work of Professor David Denison, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Physiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Royal Brompton Hospital, between trial and appeal.
Bindmans said that the programme had presented Mr Jenkins’ conviction as clear-cut. This approach had been “flagrantly dishonest, shocking, and unprecedented”. They said that the programme had created the impression that Mr Jenkins had been found guilty “by both legal and journalistic routes”. Had the case been subject to a rigorous and objective journalistic investigation, it was inevitable that entirely different conclusions would have been reached.
At a hearing held by the Commission, Mr Neil O’May, from Bindmans said that Mr Jenkins’ case was exceptional in that the evidence turned on a new and developing science. There were conflicting views of the evidence, which had not been reflected in the programme. Viewers had been left with the general impression that the evidence against Mr Jenkins was overwhelming and that he had clearly murdered his foster daughter Billie-Jo.
The BBC said that Mr Jenkins’ complaint was based on a false premise. The programme had not purported to investigate the crime. They said the programme had not been of an investigative genre: it had not set out to discover new evidence or question whether the ju-ry had reached the correct verdict. Rather, it had narrated how forensic science had resulted in prosecution. Professor Denison’s work had therefore been outside its scope. In any event, they said that a 40-minute programme could not have covered all aspects of the evidence. The focus had been on how the prosecution’s scientific evidence had been assembled.
Mr O&rsquoMay said at the hearing that there was no objectlon to the programme’s genre. However,journalistic programmes were required to be objective in the testing of evidence. There had been ten different forensic experts at trial, each with different views. The programme had selected one view.
The BBC said that Trail of Guilt’s narrative approach was not only well established; there had also been clear signals in the programme that would have made its nature apparent. In the opening moments, a caption had described the programme as a “reconstruction”,and the narrator had referred to a “tale of forensic detection”.
The BBC said at the hearing that the jury had unanimously concluded, on the basis of the scientific evidence, that Mr Jenkins was guilty beyond reasonable doubt and the Court of Appeal had concluded that any doubt about the conviction “would not be a reasonable doubt”. He had also been refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the programme had stated with great clarity that Mr Jenkins protested his innocence and his defence was that blood specks on his clothing had been caused by Billie-Jo exhaling droplets through her nose as she had been dying. Viewers had been left in no doubt that the interpretation of the scientific evidence involved fine judgements and that the scientific evidence was not open-and-shut. However, as Mr Jenkins’ conviction was a matter of fact,it had been entirely legitimate to present the prosecution evidence.
The programme stated that there had been 48 tiny bloodspots in the upper chest area and spots on the lower right leg, mid-chest and both sleeves of MI Jenkins’ clothing. Bindmans said that this had been “a disgraceful suppression of the facts”. 72 blood spots had been found on his jacket; 48 in the upper chest area; 21 spots on the left sleeve; and only 3 on the right sleeve.
Bindmans said that the prosecution had performed an experiment of striking a pig’s head to try to simulate the blood spray. The prosecution had found significant bloodstaining on the striking arm of the assailant and that there was always more bloodstaining on the striking than the non-striking arm. This had been ignored in the programme. They said that the withholding of this essential information had conveyed the incorrect impression that there had been significant and incriminating bloodstaining on Mr Jenkins’ right sleeve, and had given an incorrect impression of the forensic evidence. They said that forensic scientists reported that in similar cases there was frequently bloodstaining on the back of the assailant’s clothing. There had been none on Mr Jenkins’ clothing, nor had there been any brain or body tissue. This, and the paucity of blood spots on his shoes, had also been suppressed.
The BBC said that the programme had clearly and accurately reflected the overall distribution of spots on Mr Jenkins’ clothing. It had not suppressed or concealed vital facts. It had not suggested there had only been 48 spots on the entire jacket. Mr Adrian Wain of the Forensic Science Service had stated in the programme that approximately 48 tiny spots had been found in one area of the jacket — the upper chest area. That had led into a reconstruction sequence in which Mr Wain had referred to other spots on the jacket — on both sleeves and near the collar. He had also said that there were spots on Mr Jenkins’ trousers. In the reconstruction, Mr Wain had given his view that the spots on the jacket, trousers and shoes had been what he would have expected to find with “impact-type spattering”. Concerning the presence of more blood spots on the left sleeve, Mr Wain had told the programme-makers that he did not know whether Mr Jenkins was right-handed, left-handed or ambidextrous, but this was irrelevant because no-one knew how the weapon had been wielded.
The BBC said that the programme had not misrepresented the pig experiment. Mr Wain had found that larger blood drops flew away from the striker; the returning blood was a fine, aerosol-like spray, which had been the only type of spraying that had been found on Mr Jenkins’ clothing. Mr Wain had told them that, from this type of experiment, scientists could not necessarily extrapolate how the spots would be distributed between different areas of clothing. Mr Wain had also told the programme-makers that cast-off blood was rarely found on an attacker’s clothing. It had not therefore been necessary to include a discussion of this in the programme. Prosecution scientists had also said that brain and body tissue would not necessarily have been found on the assailant. They had not expected to find such tissue, so they had not been surprised to find none. Evidence of five spots of Billie.Jo’s blood on Mr Jenkins’ shoes had not been included in the programme, as this had not been regarded as significant.
Tent spike reconstruction
Bindmans said that there were also other significant respects in which the BBC had created a distorted impression of the case. A police character had stated “(Mr Jenkins) sees red, he picks up the nearest weapon to hand, the tent spike, which Annie found when she cleared out the utility room earlier in the day…”. Bindmans said at the hearing that viewers would have thought that this had been a recounting of the actual circumstances of the murder. They said that the tent spike had not been the nearest weapon to hand. At trial, the prosecution had never suggested that it had been. Bindmans said that had an intruder entered the house through the side passage, a tent peg would have been the first implement to hand. However, had Mr Jenkins attacked Billie-Jo from inside the house, then the tent peg would not have been the nearest weapon to hand. They said at the hearing that viewers would have thought that this had been a reconstruction of the actual events. The prosecution had not suggested that the tent spike had been the nearest weapon to hand.
The BBC said that Detective Superintendent Jeremy Paine had been portrayed as suggesting to Detective Sergeant Ann Capon a sequence of events that would explain how Mr Jenkins had come to hit Billie-Jo with the tent spike. They said that viewers would have understood from the dramatic context and the dialogue that the DS Paine character had not been presenting firm evidence, but had been working through a hypothetical and speculative scenario. Viewers would therefore have realised that his remark that the tent spike had been the “nearest weapon to hand” had only been the suggestion of a possibility. Even if the tent spike had not been the nearest weapon to hand, it had indisputably been the murder weapon.
Bindmans said that according to the programme, before calling 999, Mr Jenkins had called a neighbour for help. They said that this had been untrue : Mr Jenkins had telephoned the emergency services straightaway and had asked for an ambulance. He had subsequently telephoned the neighbour and then he had telephoned a second time for an ambulance. They said that it had been the prosecution case at trial that Mr Jenkins had behaved strangely and unnaturally when the body had first been discovered. The false suggestion in the programme that he had called a neighbour prior to calling 999 had “…perhaps” been intended to fit in with this aspect of the prosecution case. Bindmans agreed that some telescoping of events was necessary in television reconstructions. However, this telescoping had deliberately distorted the facts.
The BBC said that in resuming the reconstruction shortly before Mr Jenkins’ second 999 call, rather than with his first one eight minutes earlier, the programme had not intended to suggest there had been anything strange or unnatural in the way he had called for help, and the BBC did not think viewers would have formed that conclusion. The overall impression had been that of urgent calls for help by Mr Jenkins and the neighbour. At the hearing, they said that viewers would not have inferred from this short part of the reconstructian that these had been the actions of a man reacting to an emergency. There had been no sense of delay, but a degree of confusion. It had not been necessary to refer to the first 999 call. Although viewers could have concluded that the call in the programme had been the first, this would have been of no significance to the portrayal of the evidence.
Bail decision reconstruction
In the programme, a police detective su.perintendent, on learning that Mr Jenkins had been granted bail, stated that Mr Jenkins was a danger to the public. Bindmans said that the suggestion that Mr Jenkins had been a danger to the public, with the implication that he had been likely to commit further crimes, had been absurd. They said that Mr Jenkins had meticulously met all his bail conditions, and had never proved a danger to anyone.
The BBC said that the programme had accurately portrayed DS Paine’s reaction to the news that Mr Jenkins had been granted bail. His reaction had been understandable given his belief that Mr Jenkins was the murderer.
3. Evidence considered by the Commission
The Commission had before it a complaint form and written submissions from Bindmans,and written submissions in response from the BBC. It viewed the programme as broadcast and read a transcript. The Commission held a hearing attended by Mr Neil O’May, accompanied by Mr David Jenkins and Mrs MeganJenkins (Mr Jenkins’parents), and representatives of the BBC.
4. The Commission’s Findings
The Commission notes that Trail of Guilt’s intention was to recount the forensic evidence in the investigation of Billie-Jo Jenkins’ murder. In the Commission’s view, that was fairly achieved. This approach naturally gave weight to the forensic evidence which led to Mr. Jenkins’ conviction. The programme did not puport to assess all the available evidence, as would be expected in an investigative programme. Nor does the Commission consider that it was incumbent on the BBC to refer to Professor Denison’s work as this was outside the scope of the programme. In its view,the programme did not distort facts concerning the location and distribution of the bloodspots on Mr Jenkins’ clothing. Nor was it necessary, in terms of fairness, to provide an analysis ofthe blood staining on the back ofthe assailant or the existence or otherwise of brain or body tissue. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness in these respects.
As to the reconstructions, the Commission considers that it was clear from the discussion following the decision to grant Mr Jenkins bail that this was the personal view ofthe police superintendent concerned. It therefore finds no unfairness in this regard.
In respect of the discussion of the tent spike, the Commission considers that it would have been clear to most viewers that this was a reconstructed account of police speculation at the time. Nonetheless, it would have been preferable for the programme to have explained that it was not suggested at trial that the tent spike had been the nearest possible weapon to hand. As the prograrnme did not make this clear, the Commission considers that some viewers could have thought that this was an accurate account of these events. It therefore finds unfairness to Mr Jenkins here.
The Commission has reservations about the telescoping of events in the 999 reconstruction. For reasons of accuracy, it would have been preferable for the programme to have explained that Mr Jenkins had called the emergency services before calling his neighbour. By implying that he had not called 999 urgently, the programme portrayed him in a more unfavourable light than was justified. In this, the Commission also finds unfairness.
However, the Commission finds that, overall, the programme dealt fairly with the forensic evidence,which was its main objective. It regards that as outweighing the other two matters where unfairness was found. Accordingly, overall, the complaint is not upheld.
9 January 2001
Mr Strachan Heppell
Mr David Boulton
Mr Uday Dholakia