Channel Four Investigates
The Trial and Error programe about the case of Siôn Jenkins was screened on Wednesday 15 September 1999.
It was an important step forward for the case to be so publicly analysed in an objective way. A measured and coherent account had, at last, entered the public domain.
In a important ruling in July 1999 on the right of journalists to visit prisoners, five law lords acknowledged the critical role journalists can have in overturning miscarriages of justice, many of which, Lord Steyn said, “have only been identified and corrected through painstaking investigation by journalists.” He underlined the importance to society of “the safety valve of effective, investigative journalism”.
Trial and Error is widely acclaimed for its commitment to justice and the truth. In examining Siôn Jenkins’ case, it was upholding important values and exercising rights vital to any democracy.
At the time Channel 4 published the following description of the programme’s content on its website.
TRIAL AND ERROR The Murder of Billie Jo 21:00
Channel 4’s Trial and Error is back — with an investigation into one of the most horrific murders in recent years. Reporter DAVID JESSEL examines the high profile case of deputy headmaster SIÔN JENKINS and asks whether he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his foster daughter Billie Jo. Siôn Jenkins was already considered a liar at the time of his trial for fabricating his education qualifications to get his job. No doubt this helped convince the public that he was also capable of a far more heinous crime, that of the murder of a 13-year-old child. But Trial and Error reveals substantial new findings that cast doubt on the key piece of evidence which convicted Jenkins and investigates the possibility that someone else could have committed the murder.
One Saturday afternoon in February 1997, Billie-Jo Jenkins was bludgeoned to death as she painted the patio doors at the back of her foster parents’ home. Her skull crushed with a large metal tent peg, Billie-Jo was found lying in a pool of blood by her foster father Siôn Jenkins and his daughters, Annie (12) and Lottie (10). The police case hinged on the fine mist of blood found on Jenkins’ blue fleece and trousers caused, according to the prosecution, by the violent action of hammering a skull. Jenkins’ actions around the time of the murder — making an unnecessary trip to a DIY store and seemingly delaying before calling the ambulance — seemed sufficiently suspicious to make him their prime suspect.
After Jenkins’ trial, revelations and stories about his character helped convince the public of his guilt. In addition to lying about where he went to school, Jenkins admitted slapping his wife in the early days of their marriage. But he vehemently denies stories that he had been a serial wife batterer or that he had kicked Billie Jo while on holiday. Despite police investigations there is no evidence to back up allegations that Jenkins once had an affair with a schoolgirl.
As Jenkins’ case prepares to go to the Appeal Court in the autumn, Trial and Error unearths new evidence that throws great doubt on his guilt. This includes investigating the scientific findings over how the blood got on Jenkins’ clothing. Trial and Error also investigates the possibility that another person committed the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins. On returning to the house from the DIY store Lottie had noticed the side gate leading to the back patio was now open — but she was not called to give evidence at the trial. In the weeks before the murder the family felt threatened by a prowler, while Billie-Jo told a number of friends someone was following her. And on that fateful February day, there were 35 sightings of a psychiatric patient acting suspiciously in the park next to the Jenkins’ house. The man was arrested but police have, to this day, never even questioned him because he was too mentally disturbed.