Confession — or diversion?
Why was public attention diverted from the crucial forensic evidence emerging in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday 7 July 2004?
This evidence challenged the prosecution case leading to the original conviction of Siôn Jenkins, which was upheld at the first appeal. Its complexity made it less accessible than the events which preceded it during the first week of this appeal. Its significance, though, was immense.
Yet prominence was given to the unlikely story of a burglar who allegedly confessed to the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins.
How coincidental that on the day when important new forensic evidence was being heard, The Sun newspaper chose to disclose this apparently major ‘breakthrough’. Interestingly, it appeared on page 22, at the tail end of an article entitled ‘Wife Begged Hubby: Confess on Billie-Jo’.
Following its account of the appeal proceedings on 6 July, it had a short item referring to an alleged confession to the murder by someone in Exeter prison two years previously, i.e. 2002. Evidently the cellmate who heard that confession had just seen fit to share the news. Two years on, Sussex police confirmed that officers would be speaking to the burglar, to whom a direct quote was attributed in the article.
This scenario implies a random and casually opportunist attack, in contradiction to the still-unexplained fact that black plastic had been deliberately forced right back into Billie-Jo’s nasal cavity. In court, police forensic scientist Adrian Wain acknowledged the strangeness of this particular detail.
The BBC News website, reporting the story on 7 July 2004, said that Detective Chief Inspector Jeremy Paine ‘who is overseeing the inquiry … played down the significance of the information. He said a number of calls had been received in relation to the original case and as many as 90 people had been investigated.’
(The BBC reported the story at 12.27pm in an item entitled ‘Police to quiz Billie-Jo suspect’. That item is no longer available online.)
A prison cell confession story has figured in this case in the past. Immediately after Siôn Jenkins’ conviction in 1998, The News of the World printed a completely untrue account of his alleged confession to a cellmate in Belmarsh prison. Sussex police were involved in commenting on that story too.
Prison cell confessions have a shoddy history and produce dubious evidence.
The Sun and The News of the World belong to to the same family of newspapers under common ownership. Their shared tactic was both stale and debased.
It was a distraction from the rigorous scientific evidence currently being presented at the appeal. It was a distraction from the fact that there was a credible alternative suspect. It was a distraction from the fact that Siôn Jenkins was an innocent man and that the real murderer remains free.