Dissenting Voices

It is heartening to record that soon dissenting voices could be heard, offering a more analytical approach. Setting aside personal judgements on Siôn Jenkins’ character as irrelevant, some journalists focused instead on evidence and objectivity.

In an article about juries in the Sunday Times of 12 February 2006, Simon Jenkins comments:

The Jenkins case beggars belief. After nine years, three trials, seven hundred witness statements and ten million pounds in costs, the judicial system still cannot decide whether Jenkins killed his foster daughter, Billie-Jo. The nine years included six spent by Jenkins in prison under the barbaric Charles Clarke regime where prisoners who refuse to admit their guilt are denied all privileges. This medievalism survives only because Clarke is terrified of the Daily Mail and the Prison Officers’ Association, jealous of its power over prisoners.

No sooner was the Jenkins jury released and the accused formally acquitted than Thursday’s newspapers were filled with evidence that the jury had not been allowed to hear although it had been heard previously by Court of Appeal judges. …Jenkins duly had to endure a fourth trial at the hands of the press, with evidence in play that he had been unable to challenge in open court.

The following day Roy Hattersley, writing in the Guardian suggests that the media coverage of the Jenkins case and other brutal murders appeals to their readers’ ‘basest instincts’.

“The newspapers’ defence against the charge of aiming at the lowest common denominator is that they only publish what the people want to read. Everyone, they say, is fascinated by violent death.Perhaps they underestimate their readers.” He refers to the ‘morality of the marketplace’, pointing out that the motivation of the media who exploit tragic situations like this one is simply to make money.

Francis Wheen, in the Evening Standard of 14 February 2006 says:

Now begins the fourth and most vicious trial — trial by media in which normal rules of evidence and procedure are cast aside to ensure that the court of public opinion reaches the obligatory conclusion.

His opinion is that

“No conscientious jury could have found Siôn Jenkins guilty of murder ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Though you wouldn’t guess it from the recent coverage, the defence had a strong case which raised doubts galore.”

Looking back to the famous miscarriages of justice in the seventies and eighties he makes this observation:

Years later, when the convictions were belatedly overturned, outraged newspapers demanded to know how such injustice could have been perpetrated.

Linking those events to the case of Siôn Jenkins, he adds: “If they look at their own lynch-mob antics over the past few days, they might find the answer.”

Ross Clark’s article in The Spectator 18 February 2006 has the title ‘Trial by Tabloid’. He comments:

After three trials and nine years there has not been a single piece of convincing evidence which implicates Jenkins as the killer. And that, in any civilised legal system, would be that: the prisoner must go free. Different rules apply, however, in Britain’s alternative legal system otherwise, known as tabloid journalism. …The past few days have seen Jenkins tried for a fourth time in absentia, the tabloids, though choosing their words very carefully, effectively reaching the verdict that ‘it woz Jenkins wot done it’.

In The New Statesman 20 February 2006 Peter Wilby writes:

On the basis of allegations that were never put before a jury — that Jenkins beat his wife and used corporal punishment on his own four children — the papers have, in effect, headlined ‘Siôn Jenkins is guilty’. These are unconfirmed allegations largely from a single source: Jenkins’s ex-wife, Lois, who gave her full 20,000-word account to the *Mail on Sunday*. Most papers, including *The Guardian*, reported them without any hint that it was possible to question them.

He goes on:

press behaviour over the past week illustrates the dangers of trial by newspaper. For the press, an allegation that the accused is a bad egg with a disreputable past is conclusive proof of guilt. So it often is for the police, which explains why they frequently arrest the wrong people.

Patrick Nicholls, in a recent edition of The Western Morning News, recalls the history of the trial over the past nine years, and highlights the way that from the outset, in 1997, the police and media jointly made it impossible for Siôn Jenkins to have fair trial. He disparages the media which made capital of ‘the allegations of violence the jury never heard’, pointing out an incontestable fact:

“The reason these allegations were not put before the jury was that, coming from a clearly prejudiced source, their probative value was nil.” His own view is “The wonder is not that the third jury could not decide, but that Mr Jenkins was ever obliged to face a third trial.” Nicholls, too, is particularly critical of the tone of the *Guardian* coverage. He asks “So why did the Press do it?” The answer: “… In short, the Press have behaved like this because they see Mr Jenkins as quite defenceless.”

These writers represent a spectrum of political opinion, but their common feature is a forensic dissection of the post-trial media coverage. Their shared distaste for those who subjected Siôn Jenkins to a fourth trial amounts to a searing indictment of their own profession. Their abrasive honesty is refreshing.