- How did the Police handle the case?
- Why were the issues confused?
- A fair trial?
- A credible motive?
- Realistic opportunity?
- Compelling evidence?
- An orchestrated smear campaign?
- A Police PR Opportunity?
- What was the role of Social Services?
- Trial by media?
1. How did the Police handle the case?
Hastings police were desperate to make an arrest in the town, which had become the focus of negative publicity in the national press. Several murders in Hastings remained unsolved, and public confidence in the police was at a very low ebb. The police made lots of reassuring statements, but they seemed to be getting nowhere. Although they were given many leads by concerned members of the public they failed to follow up plausible lines of enquiry. By the time nearly a month had passed they were under real pressure for several reasonsónot least of which was their public image.
2. Why were the issues confused?
When police announced that they had charged Siôn Jenkins with the murder of his foster daughter, they made an explicit link with the deception charge over his qualifications. Early evening television news headlines on 14 March 1997 led with the joint allegation. Widespread coverage followed in the national newspapers.
Siôn Jenkins was established in the public perception as the teacher who had lied.
The implied connection was that if he had lied about his qualifications, then his denial of murder was bound to be a lie. The connection is illogical.
Police did not follow up the deception charge but they used it from the outset to slant the case against Siôn Jenkins. By the time the case came to trial fifteen months later the idea of guilt by association was established.
3. A fair trial?
The trial was held in Lewes, East Sussex. As the county town, Lewes is the location of the Education Department which had employed Siôn Jenkins as well as of the Crown Court where he was tried. Gossip and rumour had circulated relentlessly in Hastings, Lewes and elsewhere in the county during the time since he had been charged. Individuals connected in various ways with the legal system had not hesitated to voice personal opinions in an unprofessional way. In these circumstances, was it really possible for Siôn Jenkins to have a fair trial in East Sussex?
4. A credible motive?
There was none. The prosecution at the original trial was emphatic on this point.
The retrial offered no more clarity. At the retrial one motive suggested was that Siôn Jenkins was under stress because he was worried about having lied on his CV. And? Quite how this might have caused him to murder Billie-Jo was never explained. In any case, it was public knowledge that he was to become the next headteacher.
An even less likely motive was plucked from Peter Gaimsters unfounded allegation that Siôn Jenkins had kicked Billie-Jo the previous summer, a fact which evidently Gaimster had, bizarrely, kept to himself until several months after the murder. Nicholas Hilliard seemed to suggest that the motive for murder was to prevent Billie-Jo revealing that he had been violent the previous year. Really? And that was as good as it got.
5. Realistic opportunity?
The evidence showed that there would not have been time for Siôn Jenkins (who was actually with two of his other daughters) to commit the brutal murder and conceal what had taken place
6. Compelling evidence?
At the time of the murder the police asserted that there would have been a great deal of direct evidence to link the murderer to the scene. However, by the time of the trial and after months of strenuous efforts to link Siôn Jenkins with the crime, the prosecution could offer only the most tenuous circumstantial evidence and ambiguous forensic evidence (based on invisible spots of blood)
7. An orchestrated smear campaign?
On 2 July 1998, moments after the verdict was announced on television, Lois Jenkins solicitor was reading out a denunciation of Siôn Jenkins. It appeared in all the newspapers the following morning. The initial timing and content of the statement suggested that it was not a spontaneous reaction to the verdict. The campaign had begun and continued throughout the following week and beyond.
How was it possible for reporters to show copies of Siôn Jenkins CV on television? That charge had not been pursued. The document would have still constituted evidence in any proceedings on the deception charge and in any event, application forms remain confidential documents.
Police sources were frequently quoted e.g. the Daily Mail of 3 July 1998 quoted police officers as saying that Lois Jenkins had always feared her husband would injure her and that Billie Jo had been wearing some of Lois old clothing on the day of the murder. Note that this apparent evidence, is given after the verdict, when Siôn Jenkins was already in prison.
In August 1998, the News of the World published the completely untrue story that Siôn Jenkins had made a prison cell confession a month after being convicted. Top police officers made comments. Dept Supt. Jeremy Paine was quoted as saying the police “remain interested in any relevant evidence relating to the Jenkins case”. Why, if they had done their job properly? With the accused serving a life sentence, what further evidence could be relevant? This was a classic case of nailing down the coffin lid.
8. A Police PR opportunity?
By the time Siôn Jenkins trial began on 3 June 1998, Sussex Police were having difficulties with their public image.
In January 1998, there had been the fatal shooting of the unarmed and naked James Ashley in St. Leonards, resulting in the suspension of police officers.
In consecutive weeks in that same month, January 1998, two women were murdered in Hastings. No one has yet been charged with those murders.
In February 1998 the conviction of Sheila Bowler for murder was overturned at a retrial. This case is described in the book Anybodys Nightmare — the Sheila Bowler Story. This account reveals strange similarities between the Sheila Bowler case and that of Siôn Jenkins.
On 8 June 1998, as the Jenkins trial was getting underway, the case of two women accused of the murder of Richard Watson in East Grinstead collapsed. Investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, who examined the James Hanratty case, wrote a detailed analysis of the Watson case in the Guardian (10 April 1999). The parallels with the Siôn Jenkins case are unmistakable.
The conviction of Siôn Jenkins was essential to recapture the ebbing public confidence.
In August 1998 PATROL, the Sussex police news sheet, explicitly linked the Watson case with the Jenkins case, stressing that “…both were investigated with the same high degree of integrity and professionalism…” It claimed that media coverage after the East Sussex trial had “reflected most favourably on the skill and sensitivity of the police inquiry”.
The outcome of the Jenkins case provided a convenient and much-needed boost to the reputation of the force
In December 1998 five officers received commendations for their work on the case. One of the commendations referred to the work involved going “far beyond that which could be expected of an officer.”
Could it be that their recent bad publicity explained the determination of the police to show that this time they really had got their man?
9. What was the role of Social Services?
This tragic case involved the death of a child in care. Her death, it is now claimed, was at the hands of someone into whose care Social Services had placed her.
Did the system really fail to protect Billie-Jo Jenkins?
If Siôn Jenkins were guilty, the social workers involved would have failed over five years to recognise the risks presented by this placement.
What do the records over these years show?
What about their routine reviews?
What did the inquiry reveal?
Lois Jenkins, herself a social worker, failed to alert Social Services to what she claimed (after the verdict) had been years of her husbands brutality. If this was the case, how could she — with her professional knowledge and backgroundóhave introduced a vulnerable child into an abusive household?
In The Times of 3 July 1998 Billie Jos aunt, Margaret Coster, is quoted as saying that Lois told her she would not leave Billie-Jo alone with Siôn. If this was indeed the truth, how could either of these women have allowed Billie-Jo to continue being at risk?
A family friend claims to have witnessed Billie-Jo being viciously kicked during a holiday in France the previous summer. Would responsible adults really just stand by?
Such allegations are hard to reconcile with the fact that Lois Jenkins went ahead with taking on the joint legal guardianship of Billie-Jo very shortly before the murder.
Or did Social Services, in fact, carry out their job responsibly?
Billie-Jo, from all accounts prior to the verdict, had become a confident, lively teenager, coping increasingly successfully with life as a much-loved child in her foster family. Unless all these accounts are untrue, Social Services correctly discharged their responsibilities to all concerned.
At the time of the case, the distorted media presentation of the familys life served only to obscure the weakness of the evidence leading to the conviction of Siôn Jenkins.
There are two possibilities:
- Social Services failed abysmally to protect a child at risk, a failure which merits considerable public scrutiny and demands accountability.
- Social Services have been unfairly implicated in a misrepresentation of the truth in order to convict Siôn Jenkins.
Only one can be true.
10. Trial by media?
Before, during and after the trial there was sensational media coverage which demonised Siôn Jenkins and presented a tragedy in the terms of a soap opera. Even the broadsheets could not resist stereotypes which oversimplified the situation and caricatured the individuals involved.
The media have undeniably played their part in distorting the facts of this case.
This campaign challenged them over the years to investigate just who had been lying about what, to show they had the will to reveal the truth, and in doing so, to help to expose a very real injustice.
Astonishingly, during such an important and high profile retrial, reporting of events was spasmodic. Even after the outcome, the focus was not on the evidence, but on rumour and allegations about his character.
Siôn Jenkins has been cleared of all charges, but there is still a burning need to know how such a terrible miscarriage of justice was allowed to happen, and to expose those responsible.
We invite the media to probe, to ask awkward questions, and to pursue the truth until people have the facts they need to know because this is, truly, in the public interest, and for the public good.