Twenty Years: a shameful anniversary.

15th February 2017 is the twentieth anniversary of an unsolved murder.

On a sunny Saturday in February 1997 a thirteen year old girl was brutally murdered in broad daylight on the patio of her own home in Hastings, East Sussex.

That girl was Billie-Jo Jenkins. Her killer has never been found.

Her foster father was wrongly convicted of her murder and served six years in prison before his conviction was overturned at a second appeal. He was acquitted in 2006. The eleven years since that acquittal have seen no attempt by the police to re-open the investigation.

Twenty years have passed since the murder, and the world has changed. Today, information travels fast and we all have access to it in a way that would have been unimaginable at the time but is now commonplace.

The public has become more sceptical, less trustful, and no longer in awe of institutions that once would have seemed beyond scrutiny. Speaking truth to power has become a familiar notion.

Today things are different. Errors from the past are becoming visible in the present. The searchlight of scrutiny uncovers events concealed for decades, and those who once believed themselves invincible are finding they are not.

Things have also changed in policing. The Sussex Police website now has a section on Governance and Processes which highlights the Police Code of Ethics. The Code sets and defines the exemplary standards of behaviour for everyone who works in policing. It is based on these nine principles:

  • Accountability
  • Fairness
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Objectivity
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Selflessness

This expression of transparency marks a welcome change.

The murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins has become widely known in legal and academic circles as a major miscarriage of justice, exemplifying the very different standards of police practice at the time.

At the start of this twentieth anniversary year we invite Sussex Police to show the moral courage to own its past, and to demonstrate how it will apply the ethical standards of 2017.

There is an undeniable relationship between truth and reconciliation.

The story of Billie-Jo Jenkins cannot have a happy ending, but it should have a truthful one.

There are individuals with vested interests who may hope that after twenty years no-one will still be asking “Who killed Billie-Jo?” There are still many people in all parts of the country whose concern has never wavered. For that reason the insistent voice of reason still asks that question.

Someone knows the answer and it's time to tell the truth.

..uncorrected miscarriages of justice corrode respect for legal institutions. As a society we are finally learning that it is less damaging to admit mistakes than to pretend that they never happened. Nothing enhances justice more than the rigorous pursuit of error.

The Guardian: Justice on Trial 4 May 2009.