BROADCASTING STANDARDS COMMISSION
Complaint about unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy by Ms Lois Jenkins on her own behalf, and on behalf of Annie Jenkins, Lottie Jenkins, Esther Jenkins Maya Jenkins (all minors), and on behalf of Mr Peter Gaimster, submitted on 25 January 2000, about Trial and Error:The Murder of Billie-Jo, broadcast by Channel Four on 15 September 1999.
On 15 September 1999, Channel Four broadcast Trial and Error: The Murder of Billie-Jo, which examined Mr Sion Jenkins’ conviction for his foster daughter’s murder. Ms Lois Jenkins, Mr Jenkins’ former wife. complained on her own behalf,and on behalfof Annie Jenkins, Lottie Jenkins, Esther Jenkins and Maya Jenkins (the children of the marriage), and on behalf of Mr Peter Gaimster, to the Broadcasting Standards Commission that they had been treated unjustly or unfairly in the programme, and that her privacy, and the children’s privacy, had been unwarrantably infringed in the programme as broadcast.
Ms Jenkins complained of unjust or unfair treatment in that:
a) Mr Jenkins’ lying had been “belittled”, and that Annie and Lottie had been burdened with the guilt of not having been able to help Mr Jenkins at trial; b) the programme had suggested that she had been influenced by the police into believing Mr Jenkins’ guilt and that she had influenced and misled the children; c) the extent and nature of domestic violence that she had suffered had been misrepresented; and d) the programme had implied that Mr Gaimster had lied.
Ms Jenkins also complained that, by highlighting aspects “generating unnecessary media attention”, the programme infringed her privacy, and the children’s privacy.
Ms Jenkins said that the programme-makers had invited her to contribute to the programme. She said that, shortly after Billie-Jo’s death, she had decided that it was inappropriate and disrespectful for her to have any dealings with the media and that she had grown to distrust any form of media coverage. For these reasons, she had initially declined to meet them. The programme-makers had given her only seven days’ notice of the programme’s transmission. She had then immediately contacted Channel Four, who agreed to postpone the transmission following lengthy discussions. She said that, in the course of the discussions, she had realised that Channel Four and the programme-makers had been completely misinformed about much of her family’s situation, the details of Billie-Jo’s death, the police investigation and the trial. Consequently, she and her father had met them in person to offer her account of the story. She said that she had gone to great lengths to explain her family’s circumstances, particularly the difficulties faced by the children.
Channel Four said that they regretted any distress caused to Ms Jenkins and to the children, but the programme had been accurate and fair. It was in the public interest that potential miscarriages of justice should be thoroughly examined, and open to public scrutiny. They said that Trial and Error’s painstaking journalism had been instrumental in bringing fresh evidence before the Court of Appeal in many cases, a significant number of which had resulted in wrongful convictions being overturned. They had been obliged to contact Billie-Jo’s close family in order to obtain their views and perspectives and to enable a “right to reply” to be given if appropriate. Accordingly, the programme-makers had written to Ms Jenkins to inform her that the programme was being made and to invite her to meet them to discuss it. They said that their approaches had been sensitive, proper and well judged. Following various discussions and correspondence with solicitors, at Ms Jenkins’ request they had postponed the programme’s transmission to enable her to manage the children’s viewing. Channel Four said that in the course of the discussions, it had been clear that Ms Jenkins and her parents had not wanted the programme to be shown.
a) Mr Jenkins’ lying and the children being burdened with guilt
Ms Jenkins said that Mr Jenkins had lied extensively not only to his employers, but also to her and the family about his qualifications and experience. He had been charged with an offence of deception in this respect. Ms Jenkins said that, in the programme, a vicar and his wife, who had come to know Mr Jenkins, had falsely represented the extent of Mr Jenkins’ lying. Ms Jenkins said that the programme had implied that Mr Jenkins “told an odd little lie”, which was condoned, whereas he was a compulsive liar. Ms Jenkins said at a hearing held by the Commission that she had made it “quite clear” to the programme-makers that Mr Jenkins’ had lied “about everything”, and that it was not simply a question of his lying about his qualifications. She said at the hearing that the programme had not referred to the fact that his lying had had an impact on the family .
Channel Four said that the programme had responsibly and fully dealt with Mr Jenkins’ deception charge. It had not shirked from the fact that Mr Jenkins had lied to his employers and to his family and had included documentary evidence of his lies. In this context, the vicar had been questioned about the effect of Mr Jenkins’ lying. They said that, apart from the deception charge, Ms Jenkins had not provided any evidence to suggest that Mr Jenkins was a compulsive liar.
The programme explained how Annie and Lottie had not been called as “key defence witnesses” at Mr Jenkins’ trial. It had stated that Annie’s evidence to the police “if true — would make Sion Jenkins an innocent manrdquo; and that Lottie’s evidence would “if true, prove her father innocent”. Ms Jenkins said that these remarks placed an unbearable responsibility and burden on Annie and Lottie for not having been able to help Mr Jenkins at the trial. She had explained to the programme-makers that Mr Jenkins had spent many hours questioning Annie in an attempt to tell her what to say to the police. Annie had to live with this knowledge. Ms Jenkins said that the programme-makers had told her that they had seen Mr Jenkins’ notes of the discussions between him and Annie.
Channel Four said at the hearing that everything Ms Jenkins had told the programme-makers was reflected in the police documents which had been disclosed to the defence by the prosecution and to which the programme-makers had been given unfettered access. They said that the programme had not tried to make Annie and Lottie feel responsible for Mr Jenkins’ future. It had argued that their evidence should have been heard at trial. It had dispassionately explained that Annie and Lottie had given particular accounts of the day in question. The children’s earliest accounts had broadly supported Mr Jenkins’ account. Channel Four said at the hearing that although the programme-makers had seen Mr Jenkins’ notes no evidence about his discussions with Annie had been allowed at trial, and there was no evidence of any alleged “coaching”.
b) Ms Jenkins’ beliefs and her influence on the children
Ms Jenkins said that she had explained to the programme-makers that, on the third day following Billie-Jo’s death, she had become concerned that Mr Jenkins was guilty. She had explained that, despite her fears, she had not taken lightly any information that had been given to her by the police, or anyone else. When they had told her why Mr Jenkins had been arrested, she had continued to check and take time to absorb information properly. She said that the programme’s use of interviews with Mr Jenkins’ parents and a police notebook to accuse her of having been influenced by the police had been “slanderous”,“intentional” and “deceitful”. She also said that the programme had wrongly suggested that she had misled the children, and the manner in which the programme had portrayed the children’s care had been deliberately unfair and untrue.
Channel Four said that the programme had not suggested any impropriety on Ms Jenkins’ part concerning her care of the children. The programme had simply stated that when the police had told her about the forensic evidence, Ms Jenkins told Lottie, and the police had spoken to both girls. They said that the programme had made it clear that it must have been enormously difficult for Ms Jenkins when the police had told her of their belief that Mr Jenkins was guilty. It had referred to evidence, which had been cited in the trial, that the police, by their own account, had fed information to her about Mr Jenkins’ guilt. It had not been suggested that Ms Jenkins did not “have her own mind” on the matter. They said that it was Mr Jenkins’ parents’ personal view that Ms Jenkins had withdrawn support for their son as a result of what the police had told her. Mrs Jenkins had stated that, in her view, her then daughter-in-law had been “vulnerable”. The personal views of Mr and Mrs Jenkins about Ms Jenkins’ public shift to believing that Mr Jenkins was guilty had been balanced by the remark: “When the police told Lois [that Mr Jenkins must be guilty], any suspicions that may have already been forming in her mind must have been confirmed”.
c) Domestic violence
Ms Jenkins said that the programme had “deliberately wrongly” portrayed Mr Jenkins’ use of violence against her. She said that she had explained, in “great detail”, to the programme-makers the exact nature of the difficulties that she had experienced in the marriage, which had also been included in her police statement.
Channel Four said that the programme had reflected Ms Jenkins’ police statement. They said that Ms Jenkins had asked the programme-makers to keep confidential much of what she had told them and not to refer to it in the programme. It was very personal information. She had presented them with her account of Mr Jenkins’ dangerous, violent and abusive behaviour. The programme had been refined to fairly reflect, insofar as it was possible to do so, Ms Jenkins’ perspective. They said that the programme had presented a fair representation of both sides’ positions. It had shown press headlines following Mr Jenkins’ conviction, had referred to allegations of violence against Ms Jenkins, and had stated that she “said that after several happy years there had been times when his explosive anger had returned”.
d) Mr Gaimster
The programme stated that “a family friend told the police that he’d seen Jenkins kick Billie-Jo during a holiday row, something Jenkins has consistently denied”. Ms Jenkins said that the programme had implied that the family friend, Mr Peter Gaimster, had lied. Mr Gaimster said at the hearing that, in the context ofjuxtaposed statements in the programme, it had been implied that he had spoken to the press, and that his evidence to the police had been dealt with “dismissively” and “disparagingly”.
Channel Four said that the reference to Mr Gaimster, who had not been named, had featured as part of a sequence explaining that many damaging allegations about Mr Jenkins, some true, but some without any supporting evidence, had been published in the press. They said that Mr Gaimster had not been questioned about his allegation at Mr Jenkins’ trial. They denied that there had been any suggestion or implication that Mr Gaimster had lied. Nonetheless, they said that Mr Gaimster’s contradictory statements to the police had made him an unreliable witness. However, the programme had fairly represented his position. They went on to state that the programme-makers had informed Mr Gaimster about the programme, but he had not pursued the possibility of a meeting to discuss the matter.
Unwarranted infringement of Privacy
In the programme, a dramatised reconstruction portrayed Annie in a dispute with Billie-Jo. Ms Jenkins questioned the purpose of emphasising this, even if it had been true. She said that the programme’s highlighting of certain aspects of family life on the day in question had amounted to an unwarranted infringement of privacy, particularly for Annie, but also for Lottie and the other children. She said at the hearing that she had told the programme-makers that Mr Jenkins would not have behaved in the manner that had been portrayed in the reconstruction. She said that she had only been aware of the use of child actors, not the substance of the reconstruction. She also said that in trying to make Annie and Lottie feel responsible for their father’s future, the programme had been unjust and unfair, and had been an unwarranted infringement of their privacy.
Channel Four said that there had been no intention to influence Annie and Lottie. They said that the family had been fairly, accurately and sensitively depicted in the programme. At the hearing, they said that the reconstruction had closely followed what had been said at the trial, and had been necessary to explain a central part of the prosecution case, that Mr Jenkins had lost his temper following a dispute between the girls. They said that the programme had accurately portrayed the interaction between Annie and Billie-Jo prior to the murder. Annie and Lottie were Mr Jenkins’ only two potential alibi witnesses. The children had been present when Billie-Jo’s body had been found. It had not therefore been possible to divorce them from the situation. It was to have been a “central plank” of Mr Jenkins’ (ultimately unsuccessful) appeal against conviction that their evidence should have been heard at the trial. They said that any infringement ofthe family’s privacy, which was denied, had been outweighed by the public interest in investigating the case. However, the effect on the family had been kept to a minimum. Only the two children who had been present when Billie-Jo’s body had been discovered, and whose names had already been in the public domain, had been named. Only one photograph of the children, in which their faces were blurred, had been shown. In contrast, all of the children’s names and photographs of them had been widely published in the press after the murder.
Evidence considered bv the Commission
The Commission had before it a complaint form from Ms Jenkins and a written statement in response from Channel Four. It viewed the programme as broadcast and read a transcript. The Commission held a hearing attended by Ms Jenkins and Mr Gaimster and representatives of Channel Four.
The Commission’s Findings
The Commission recognises both the validity of investigations into alleged miscarriages ofjustice and the distress to those centrally involved — in this case, Ms Jenkins and the four children of the marriage. It understands Ms Jenkins’ concern about the prospect of “unnecessary media attention” on the family, and notes that this was a factor in her decision not to take up the programme-makers’ invitation to meet during the period when the programme was being developed. It also notes that when Ms Jenkins was informed of the programme’s intended transmission, Channel Four agreed to delay this to enable her to manage the children’s viewing.
The Commission understands Ms Jenkins’ points concerning the portrayal of her former husband’s lying and its impact on the family. However, it is of the view that in the context of this particular case, the programme reasonably summarised the evidence. It therefore finds no unfairness to Ms Jenkins and the children in this regard.
The Commission notes that the fact that neither Annie nor Lottie had given evidence at Mr Jenkins’ trial was to have been a “central plank” of his appeal and recognises the distress and difficulties caused to the children by this aspect of the programme. However, as they were Mr Jenkins’ only possible alibi witnesses, the Commission finds that no unfairness arose from the use of the material about their statements to the police. As the programme-makers had no evidence of alleged “coaching”, the Commission also finds no unfairness in the fact that the programme was silent as to what Mr Jenkins could have told the children to say to the police.
The Commission considers that the programme dealt with the police note which referred to feeding information into Ms Jenkins about Mr Jenkins’ guilt, and Mr Jenkins’ parents’ views as to Ms Jenkins’ behaviour and vulnerability, in a straightforward and factual manner. The Commission accepts that Ms Jenkins was at this time carefully reflecting on all the emerging information about the tragedy and it does not consider that the programme implied otherwise. It therefore finds no unfairness in this regard.
In relation to the programme’s statements about Mr Jenkins’ use of violence against Ms Jenkins, on the evidence available to the Commission, it is not satisfied that she was unfairly treated in this respect.
The Commission understands Mr Gaimster’s concerns about his portrayal in the programme, but notes that his evidence was freely given to the police. It does not consider that the programme implied that he had lied. Nor does it consider that his allegation that Mr Jenkins had kicked Billie-Jo was unfairly juxtaposed with press reports. It therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Gaimster.
In the context of an investigation of an alleged miscarriage of justice, the Commission considers that it was legitimate for the programme to portray events that formed part of the prosecution case at Mr Jenkins’ trial. The Commission appreciates the inevitable distress to Ms Jenkins and the children about the portrayal of some of these events, in particular the dramatised dispute between Annie and Billie-Jo, The Commission is concerned that when dramatising events involving children, broadcasters should be sensitive to the effect it will have on the children in question. On balance, the Commission finds that the infringement of the family’s privacy in the programme was justified given the overriding public interest in the matters under investigation. It therefore finds that the family’s privacy was not unwarrantably infringed in the programme as broadcast.
Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.
21 June 2000
Ms Jane Leighton
Mr David Boulton
Ms Sioned Wyn Thomas