The Case of Siôn Jenkins

The Background

On 15 February 1997, a Saturday afternoon, at approximately 3.30pm, 13-year-old Billie-Jo Jenkins was battered to death. She suffered an untold number of blows to the head which shattered her skull. The killer left behind his weapon, an 18-inch metal tent spike, which was lying by her head. Billie-Jo was not sexually assaulted; nor was the house broken into or burgled. The doctor called to the scene said that in 26 years as a police surgeon it was the most brutal murder he had ever attended.

Siôn and Lois Jenkins lived in Lower Park Road, Hastings, with their four daughters — Annie (then 12), Lottie (10), Esther (9) and Maya (7). They had moved there in 1993 from Bow, East London, where they had acquired a fifth daughter, Billie-Jo, a school friend of Annie’s, whom they took into foster care and who moved with them to Hastings when Siôn was appointed deputy head of William Parker boys’ comprehensive school.

There had been a number of incidents in the area during past months. In the immediate vicinity of the Jenkins’ home, there had been 41 crimes in Lower Park Road and 25 in Alexandra Park opposite. In 1996, two young girls were sexually assaulted and two people murdered in Hastings. So the murder of Billie-Jo was straightaway linked to these other local crimes, as well as to the deaths of Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, Kent. Police described the attack as “vicious and frenzied” and the killer as “evil and deranged”.

The house next door to the Jenkins’ was derelict and had been boarded up for 18 months. “Police believe that [the killer] hid behind a hedge in the garden next door watching Billie-Jo”, reported the Mirror, “and lay in wait until the family went out”. Detective Superintendent Jeremy Paine said, “It would have been easy for the killer to pick the tent peg up.”

From the very beginning, the murder became a high-profile news story. The papers reported that police were looking for a man with a scar or birthmark across his face, who had been seen acting strangely in the area on the day of the murder.

Within a few days, however, police attention had shifted instead to Siôn Jenkins. He was arrested on 24 February 1997 and charged with Billie-Jo’s murder on 14 March 1997. He was found guilty on 2 July 1998 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has always protested his complete innocence.

What Happened (According to Siôn Jenkins)

On that Saturday, at the end of the half-term holiday, Lois took Annie, Esther and Maya shopping to Safeway’s. Later on she telephoned Siôn to say that she couldn’t pay for the groceries as she’d forgotten her cheque-book, and asked him to bring it for her. When he got there, they realised that he’d taken an old book with no cheques left in it. So he had to return home and go back again to Safeway’s with a current cheque-book.

They then all returned home. Lottie, who’d been at the cinema with friends, was taken to a clarinet class with another friend by Mrs A, that friend’s mother. Siôn and Lois then arranged that while Lois took Esther and Maya for a walk on the beach, Siôn would pick up Lottie from her clarinet class. As it happened, he didn’t know where that was, so they drove round so that Lois could point out the house to him.

While Lois went to the beach, Siôn set the older children to doing household tasks: Annie cleaned out a storeroom (and, in doing so, placed three metal tent pegs, originally used to secure an old garden swing, on the coal bunker in the garden); and Billie-Jo swept the patio.

Siôn then took Annie with him to fetch Lottie, leaving Billie-Jo painting the patio doors. They picked up Lottie, and also took her friend home. Mrs A. estimated that they dropped her daughter off at about 3.15-3.20.

When they got home. Siôn realised they would need some white spirit and so, taking Annie and Lottie with him, drove to Do-It-All.

Having arrived there, he realised that, exactly like Lois earlier in the day, he’d forgotten to take any means of payment with him, so it was another wasted journey.

They returned home, and went into the house.

Billie-Jo was lying in a pool of blood on the patio. Siôn went in, crouched down beside her, and ushered the two distraught children out of the room. He examined her more carefully, and immediately made a 999 call for an ambulance. He then telephoned a neighbour. Eight minutes after the first 999 call, at her suggestion, he made another.

As the ambulance men came, he went outside to his car, and got in, momentarily wondering whether he should put the hood up as it looked like rain. He quickly went back inside.

Later, Lois was contacted and they all left home to stay with neighbours while police combed their house and garden for clues.

What Happened (According to the Prosecution)

After a day of “frustration and irritation”, Jenkins returned from picking up Lottie from her music lesson, saw Billie-Jo at work on the patio doors and become instantly enraged, either because her work was slapdash, or because she was playing the radio too loudly, or for a combination of such reasons.

He therefore picked up the metal tent spike and, in a fit of uncontrollable fury, bludgeoned her to death, even though Annie and Lottie were around at the time and could have caught him in the act just by wandering in.

The prosecution could offer no real motive for him to have behaved in this way, and suggested that it would always remain a mystery.

The Crown Evidence

The Major Point

The most significant piece of evidence was the bloodstaining on Jenkins’ clothes.

Adrian Wain, the prosecution’s forensic scientist, found 72 blood spots on Siôn’s fleece jacket; 76 spots on his trousers; and 10 on his left shoe.

With the exception of one splash on the trouser leg, these were microscopic spots; none was visible to the naked eye.

In evidence, Wain said that the attacker had stood very close to Billie-Jo as he swung the weapon down on her head, thereby causing a ‘mist’ of blood and thus the spattering on Siôn’s clothes. Wain said that, “the closer the attacker is, the smaller the spots”. He also emphasised that there was “no other explanation” for the invisible specks of blood. Richard Camden Pratt QC, the prosecution barrister, told the jury that the scientific evidence was “incontrovertible”.

The Minor Points

There were other pieces of evidence which, or so the prosecution alleged, fitted together to complete the case against Siôn.

  1. In going to buy a container of white spirit, Siôn was trying to set up a false alibi for himself, by creating a ‘window’ of time that would give an intruder the opportunity to enter the house and kill Billie-Jo. To support this contention, the prosecution said:

    1. It was not necessary to buy white spirit as there was already a half-bottle in the house
    2. Siôn had no intention of buying anything, as was evident from the fact that he took no money with him
    3. He took his time getting there, taking an indirect route and going round the park twice

  2. In the immediate aftermath of Billie-Jo’s death, Siôn behaved in a very strange way

    1. He seemed to assume automatically that Billie-Jo was dead — because, alleged the Crown, he knew that she was, having killed her himself

    2. In making two telephone calls to the emergency services, he was not clear and forthright, but vague and misleading (he said that Billie-Jo had “fallen”).
    3. He did not check to see if she was still alive before dialling 999, and indeed did not display any initiative in dealing with her — failing to check either if there was any pulse, or if she was still breathing.
    4. In these two calls, he deliberately exaggerated the length of time he and the children had been away from the house.
    5. He seemed emotionally very calm and almost unconcerned with Billie-Jo’s fate while attending to Annie and Lottie.
    6. By the time the emergency services arrived, he had dismissed the tragedy to the extent that he considered the care of his car more important, and the ambulance men noticed him sitting in it.
    7. When a colleague arrived to deliver some material, Siôn again behaved in an off-hand way, and didn’t even tell him what had taken place.
  3. Later that evening, when leaving a neighbour’s house, Siôn declined to put on his fleece jacket, even though it was a cold evening.
  4. In his police interviews, Siôn fuelled suspicion by at first denying that he went back into the house at all, and only admitting he had done so after seeing Annie and Lottie’s statements.
  5. The police said they had no record of complaints about prowlers. It was inferred that all that was an invention of Siôn’s to divert suspicion elsewhere.

The Innuendo

It seems that the Crown would have liked to be able to point to some form of sexual, quasi-incestuous relationship between Siôn and Billie-Jo. This would have helped in providing some background motive for what they thought had taken place.

However, the prosecution could not do so because there was no evidence whatever to support that suggestion. The postmortem examination revealed that Billie-Jo had not been sexually assaulted, neither immediately prior to her death nor at any time during her life. In the absence of evidence, none-too-subtle hints were dropped. In his closing speech, the Crown QC referred to “that complex relationship” between them. (Nudge, nudge.)

The Case for the Defence

  1. Other forensic scientists pointed out that the bloodstaining evidence was far from “incontrovertible” and, indeed, that there was another, far more plausible explanation for the blood on the clothes.

    In evidence, Siôn explained that, having seen that Billie-Jo was covered in blood, he had ushered Annie and Lottie away before attending to her. He put his hand on her right shoulder and pulled her face up towards him. He then went back to Annie and Lottie, who were screaming and crying, before returning again to Billie-Jo. He felt her neck and smoothed her hair. He said, “I noticed a bubble of blood from her nose; I believe she was alive”. He cradled her, putting his hand in the small of her back, under her clothing.

    The defence thus argued that the blood specks on Siôn’s clothes were a result of Billie-Jo having breathed out through her nose as she lay dying. She would dispel a small cloud of blood droplets, which explained the spattering on Siôn’s clothes.

    The Crown attempted to rebut this line of argument by pointing out that there was no ‘misting’ on the clothes of the neighbour or the paramedics who attended to Billie-Jo; and that the ‘misting’ on Siôn’s clothes matched that on Billie-Jo’s own jumper and leggings. Also, Siôn had not originally mentioned that Billie-Jo was still breathing.

    The defence stood by its thesis. Anthony Scrivener QC, Siôn’s barrister, told the Court that this was a perfectly valid explanation of the way the blood spattering had occurred. Siôn attended to Billie-Jo some minutes before the neighbour and the paramedics; so he was the one who was there when she may have been still breathing, albeit imperceptibly. This was the expert opinion of an eminent neuro-surgeon who gave evidence at the trial.

    The Home Office pathologist conceded that she may have been still breathing when Siôn reached her.

    Siôn did not, initially, remark on her being still alive because he did not realise until some time afterwards that she probably had been. It is clear that, against all odds, people — and children — can cling on to life in the most extraordinary circumstances. The most compelling example is provided by the Russell murders in Kent. Lin and Megan Russell were murdered, but it was about 45 minutes before a police officer attending the scene noticed that Josie Russell was actually still alive. Although a trained and experienced observer, even he had not realised that she was still breathing.

    The final part of this defence argument is an obvious one. Billie-Jo was cruelly battered. Her blood was splashed around the area of the killing; it was on both the patio doors and the adjacent trellis. The killer had obviously stood very close to her. So the police logically deduced that the killer’s clothing would be bloodstained. They apparently held this view with some certainty. They further indicated that there would “probably” be incriminating white paint stains on his clothing

    There was a white paint stain on the cuff of his fleece jacket (which Billie-Jo earlier had laughed about). That apart, there were no paint-stains on Siôn’s clothing. Nor were there any visible bloodstains. The notion that the killer could have walked away from the attack without any conspicuous marks on him contradicts not only the original police assumptions, but also common sense.

  2. There was no other forensic science evidence, although the circumstances were such that, if Siôn were the killer, one would have expected a great deal.
  3. He would have had no time or opportunity to commit the crime.

    Points 2. and 3. are best examined in conjunction.

    There were only a few minutes in which Siôn could have committed the crime. The first emergency call was timed at 3.38. Mrs A. estimated that Siôn had dropped off her daughter at 3.15–3.20. There was quite a lot that needed to be fitted into that time-period: driving home from the A’s house (about four-and-a-half minutes); making the return journey to Do-It-All (about 15 minutes).

    Working from those timings, the defence estimated that the time available to Siôn would have been three-and-a-half minutes, if Mrs A’s 3.15 estimate was correct; or minus one-and-a-half minutes, if the 3.20 timing was accurate.

    Even making the most generous possible allowance for the time available, Siôn would have had no chance either (a) to dispose of incriminating forensic evidence; or (b) to resume his normal disposition.

    Someone may, in trying circumstances, lose control completely; a different personality may, in those same circumstances, maintain control and keep his composure. The prosecution theory in this case is fatally flawed because it requires Siôn to be both of those contrasting personalities at almost the same time: in one instant, of being beside himself with rage to the point of committing one of the most brutal murders of recent years; in the next, of appearing completely unperturbed and as calm as usual. He can be either of those personalities; he simply cannot be both.

    Moreover, it would not be possible for anyone to compose themselves so instantaneously after carrying out such a frenzied attack.

  4. The murder weapon, abandoned by the killer, was lying by Billie-Jo’s head. The police were not able to obtain fingerprints from it. A number of points can be made here:

    1. The explanation given for Siôn’s attacking Billie-Jo is that he instantly lost his temper. Yet if that had been the case, there were implements that were near to hand on the table; the tent peg, on top of the coal-bunker, was a little distance away. This argued against a sudden loss of temper.
    2. The tent-peg, however, could easily have been picked up by someone entering the house from the back — which, again, was in line with the original police scenario.
    3. The tent-peg was bloodstained at either end, but not in the middle — obviously, because that’s where the killer gripped it. Once again, the points reinforce each other. Why would the weapon have been clearly and visibly bloodstained but not Siôn’s clothing? And, if Siôn was the murderer, he would have needed additional time to wash his hands carefully — and, again, there was no time available.
    4. Siôn was portrayed at trial by the prosecution as a scheming, but cold and callous man, who was capable both of such wild violence and of carefully covering his tracks. If so: why did he leave the murder weapon in a prominent position, right by the body? As an intelligent man, he would have assumed that the chances of the police being able to obtain fingerprints from it were high. Why, while skilfully eradicating almost all other traces of his involvement, would he neglect such critical evidence?

  5. The children, Annie and Lottie, were with Siôn throughout, and their testimony corroborated his account.

  6. A paramedic said there were two muddy footprints on Billie-Jo’s legs. “I got the impression that someone had stood on her”, he explained. This evidence could not be taken further, because photographs were not taken in time and the marks were lost when the body was moved; but those footprints could not have been Siôn’s, as he had a distinctive tread on his shoes, which in any case were not muddied.
  7. Siôn was in a state of shock immediately after Billie-Jo’s death, as any responsible father would be. Professor Trimble gave evidence at trial about just what a traumatising experience finding Billie-Jo would have been. He believed that people in these circumstances cannot be expected to react entirely rationally. He was not in the least surprised that Siôn, in a state of complete bewilderment and absolute distress, should have gone to his car to pull the hood across.

    Under cross-examination at the trial, Siôn explained that “my mind was spinning”. He firmly told the Crown QC, who suggested that his reactions had betrayed him, that they could be explained by the circumstances: “I had Billie-Jo dying on one side of the house. I had the children on the other, crying and screaming. I was running between them. You don’t have any understanding of what it was actually like in that house when I returned.”

  8. During the emergency calls, Siôn was asked how long he had been away from the house, he replied, “Half an hour, 45 minutes”. This was just a vague answer, and was clearly not a calculated attempt to broaden the time-gap (which, in any event, he’d have been unable to do, as the start of the period could be independently verified by the ending of Lottie’s clarinet class).

    His first-aid in ministering to Billie-Jo may not have been adequate, but which of us, in those appalling circumstances, could guarantee that ours would be?

    He said that she had “fallen”, merely because he was initially unable to accept the enormity of the tragedy.

    His answers may not have been strictly accurate — but nor were those of the neighbour to whom Siôn turned for assistance, and who also spoke to the emergency services. “I know I wasn’t telling the truth”, she told the court, “I just thought they would come quicker”.

  9. The ‘white spirit’ point is negligible. Manufacturers and retailers probably make handsome profits from all those families who purchase fresh white spirit for every new DIY venture, forgetting that some left over from the last job has been pushed to the back of the cupboard.

    This was merely what had happened on this occasion. One of the defence complaints about the conduct of the trial was that the Crown produced photographs of the white spirit container clearly visible inside the cupboard. But they had achieved this by removing everything from in front of it. Some may have construed this as tampering with the evidence.

  10. The falsity of the idea that, because Siôn had taken no money with him to Do-It-All he had no intention of buying anything, is readily demonstrated. His oversight replicated exactly the circumstances in which Lois found herself earlier in the day.

    This notion of the prosecution’s is not merely invalid; it is also logically absurd. If Siôn’s plan had been to go to Do-It-All to buy himself time for an alibi, then he would have bought himself significantly more time if he’d taken money with him and actually purchased the white spirit.

  11. The point about Siôn’s reluctance to wear his fleece jacket as he was leaving a neighbour’s house that evening is an example of how something utterly trivial can assume absurd importance in a court of law. In the house, Siôn was slightly irritated by being told to put his jacket on; when he got outside and it was cold, he did put it on. That was all there was to it.
  12. There was plenty of evidence that the area was frequented by prowlers and unsavoury characters. On 4 February, only eleven days before the murder, Siôn had disturbed a man lurking in the back garden. Weeks earlier, he had spotted a man staring at the house from the park opposite. Billie-Jo herself had thought that she was being stalked. On a number of occasions, the family found the side-gate swinging open after they had deliberately shut it. There had recently been an attempted break-in at the house when a pane of glass in the patio doors was smashed and the catch forced.

    Lois and Siôn were sufficiently troubled to have had security lights installed and even to consider moving out of the area. Such concerns were shared by other local people.

    “A number of residents had recently raised concerns about prowlers”, reported the *Guardian* on 18 February 1997.

  13. There were other suspects, including one in particular, who was reported by a number of local people as behaving suspiciously on that Saturday afternoon. He had a known psychiatric history.

  14. There is one other point about the conduct of Siôn’s trial. There are a number of questionable practices in British courtrooms today. One of the most recent, and most contentious, is the use of videos.

    In Siôn’s trial, a videotape of the body lying *in situ* was shown on two television screens to the entire court.

    This was a specially-edited tape, which ended with a ‘freeze-frame’ of a photograph of Billie-Jo — not the most recent photograph of her, but an earlier one which was specially chosen, or so it seemed, to maximise the emotional impact in the courtroom.

    In legal parlance, material admitted at court should be relevant, and its prejudicial should not outweigh its probative value. In this instance, the prejudicial effect of this video was considerable.

    Not only was it highly debatable whether it should have been shown at all, but it was shown a second time, when the jury asked to see it again during their deliberations.

  15. In conclusion, the scenario is utterly implausible. Why would Siôn attack Billie-Jo while the other children were there and could have come in at any moment? Why would he attack her anyway? Every day children make mistakes; every day they play pop music too loudly. Their parents do not, in consequence, batter them to death.

    There was no motive, no opportunity, no valid evidence whatever.

The Post-trial Smears

There is a theory about British criminal trials which goes like this: the weaker the evidence presented at trial, the harder the authorities have to work to present a convincingly malevolent picture afterwards.

In Siôn’s case there was a torrent of black propaganda. The papers reported that he was “a control freak prone to violent outbursts of temper”. Really? Nothing had been known of this prior to the conviction and, indeed, those with experience of Siôn in a variety of situations maintain that, even under considerable stress, he would remain equable and not lose his temper.

Most memorably, he was vilified for having fabricated details on his CV Here, the media chose to overlook two central points. First, being economical with the truth about one’s CV is a practice that, whether deplorable or not, is certainly widespread, but has no rational connection with committing murder.

Secondly, at the time of his arrest, Siôn had been appointed headteacher of William Parker, an appointment he would have taken up on the retirement of the then-head in July 1997. At that stage, the details on Siôn’s CV were long forgotten and entirely irrelevant. He was promoted solely on the basis of his performance as deputy head from 1992–97 and what he had achieved for the school during that time.

The Position Today

Today Siôn is in the process of rebuilding his life, away from the glare of publicity and after being acquitted of all charges in February 2006.

From the very start he steadfastly maintained his innocence. He spent six years in Wakefield prison following his wrongful conviction in 1998 and a failed first appeal a year later.

In 2003 The Criminal Cases Review Commission scrutinised the evidence in the Jenkins case and found that Siôn’s conviction was unsafe. A second, successful appeal took place in 2004 and a retrial was ordered. In the event, he had to face two retrials in 2005. On both occasions the jury failed to reach a majority verdict.The case was without precedent in legal history.

Billie-Jo’s murderer has never been apprehended. However, with developments in technology and an increasing number of ‘cold cases’ being solved there is a growing likelihood that what really happened on 15 February 1997 will become known. Siôn and his supporters will continue to pursue the truth and press for its disclosure.