Media coverage following the acquittal was very similar to that which followed Siôn Jenkins’ conviction in 1998. Once again, innuendo and character assassination overtook analysis of the evidence.
Reporting dwelt extensively on allegations about Siôn Jenkins’ character.
Most of these allegations had originated in his former wife’s evidence. They had been declared inadmissible at the time of the second appeal and so could not be reported before now.There were direct repetitions of sensational stories circulating after his conviction. All of them were extreme in nature, and damaging to Siôn Jenkins’ reputation. Although unverified, they were presented as if they were fact.
There was not much evidence of even-handedness in the way some parts of the media dealt with the story:
On 9 February Channel 4 News had coverage of the case. In an interview with Bob Woffinden, who had supported Siôn Jenkins throughout, Jon Snow maintained a disapproving and confrontational manner, at one point acidly pointing out that Siôn Jenkins had not explicitly paid tribute to Billie-Jo in his statement. The same point was made in another part of the news item. The implication was that he had not exhibited the ‘right’ emotion, and that his failure to do was significant. In reality, Siôn Jenkins’s statement had called for justice for Billie-Jo, and had expressed deep concern that her murderer had so far escaped detection. Given the fraught nature of the circumstances, Jon Snow’s comment was mean-spirited and unfair. It is a sad state of affairs when a journalist of his perceived stature can appear to subscribe so readily to some arbitary notion of emotional correctness.
Much of the newspaper coverage was equally judgemental, sceptical of the fact that in the eyes of the law Siôn Jenkins is an innocent man. It is as though his suffering over the past nine years was at best inconsequential, and at worst, deserved. There were attacks on various aspects of his personal life, including his faith. His statement received scant mention. The Daily Mail printed almost the full version, but the rest of its reporting was simultaneously self-righteous and salacious; it included some distasteful allegations.
Reference was made in several newspapers to the prosecution evidence from two former schoolfriends of Billie-Jo, concerning injuries which, they alleged, had been caused by her foster father. No mention was made in any of the papers of the defence evidence given in court by another of Billie’s school friends, who said that those same injuries were the result of a fight Billie had had with some boys, and that she had wanted to conceal the fact from her foster parents.
Perhaps most bizarre was The Sun. Its edition of 11 February appeared with the headline ‘You Coward’ and the indignant statement “Jenkins won’t take our lie detector test.&” It was enraged by his refusal to submit to a lie detector test arranged by *The Sun, ‘to prove he did not have anything to do with Billie-Jo’s murder’. The fact that he has spent years going through a gruelling legal process which has now cleared him of the charge is brushed aside. Instead The Sun, apparently without irony, sees itself as the arbiter of the truth.
Still on trial
In an article about juries in the Sunday Times of 12 February, Simon Jenkins said of the case: “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 truth of his observation was amply demonstrated by the other Sunday newspapers.
That article appeared on the day that Lois Jenkins published the first instalment of her carefully-trailed attack on her former husband in the Mail on Sunday It consisted of four pages of sustained bitterness in which she set about demolishing his reputation with chilling malice. Opinion was presented as fact. The insidious sub-text of blame was woven through the narrative. And that was just the start. Her attack is scheduled to go on … and on.
The Independent on Sunday structured a two page article round Lois Jenkins’ account, frequently quoting her words with a deference which lent them a spurious authority.
Other Sunday papers had stories concerning the assault by Billie-Jo’s aunts, further legal action against Siôn Jenkins, verbal attacks on him by his present wife’s family and negative comments about his personal qualities. The barrage of hostility was intense. With a few honourable exceptions, the media lynch mob gathered on the moral high ground to attack a man who had just been cleared of all charges by an Old Bailey judge.
On Monday 13 February The Daily Mail picked over the entrails of its sister paper, and Lois Jenkins’ story of the previous day itself became a two page story, giving ample opportunity for more innuendo and allegation.
Other newspapers, too, circled round the main story and selected morsels to suit their taste. For some it was a fairly cerebral analysis of chastisement theory ; for others, a more dramatic account of Siôn Jenkins’ sinister behaviour (as depicted by his former wife). Each, in its own style, spread the poison further. And once again — as if the law itself lacked the necessary rigour — The Sun blared out a new challenge through which Siôn Jenkins could ‘prove’ his innocence.
Their common position was most explicitly set out by the Sunday Express “…although a judge has ruled that the outwardly respectable father of four is innocent in the eyes of the law … the unique position he now holds in criminal history has effectively sentenced him to a life under a shadow of suspicion.”
Siôn Jenkins’ place in criminal history is not of his making. In their determination to have the last word, and without compassion for what he has already endured,it is others who condemn him to the shadows .
What motivates them?
Roy Hattersley, in a Guardian article headed “What sells is what counts”, advises readers to “Forget the newspapers’ high-minded rhetoric about morality — they exist to make money.”
“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… But it is reasonable to s uggest that if they choose to sell their newspapers by aiming for the lowest common denominator, they ought to abandon the tone of moral superiority that so often characterises their comments…”
For all the thousands of words that have been written and spoken about him since his acquittal on 9 February, Siôn Jenkins has not yet had a chance to tell his side of the story.