Onward and Upwards
The arrest of Siôn Jenkins in March 1997 satisfied a national clamour for a result, and took the pressure off Sussex police.
Today the role of Jeremy Paineinvites close analysis. His meteoric rise to fame is rooted in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in legal history.
In 1997 Paine had been promoted to Detective Superintendent only days before leading the investigation in the Jenkins case. New to the role and ambitious, he was driven by the desire to see Siôn Jenkins convicted and to raise his own profile. His attitude to Siôn Jenkins developed into a personal vendetta, an obsession which distracted him from what should have been his proper aim: to find evidence leading to the person responsible for the brutal killing of Bille-Jo Jenkins.
The reality is that he failed to do so. His opinion that Siôn Jenkins was guilty was far stronger than any factual evidence.
June 2001: Cumberland Lodge
By June 2001, three years after the conviction of Siôn Jenkins, Jeremy Paine was a speaker at a ‘St Catherine’s Conference’ held at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. Clearly confident in his own skills after establishing himself as something of a celebrity, he was there to talk about ‘The use of the media as a tool’. At this stage Siôn Jenkins was in Wakefield Prison, his appeal having failed eighteen months earlier.
Paine outlined his approach to the media in the Jenkins case and two other subsequent, high profile cases he was involved in. Referring to Billie-Jo Jenkins, the conference notes relate:
The first photograph that appeared in the press of Billie with her glases on, as a school girl, produced a limited response. The next morning a different photo of her was put outshowing her as an attractive young girl, without glasses. The press went berserk, just changing those two photographs, from the one with the glasses to the one without, triggered massive interest.
Could Paine really have been unaware of the kind of interest that photograph would generate, and how it would influence the coverage the case would receive in the media?
The conference notes continue:
The police arrested Siôn within a week but had to release him on bail because they didn’t have enough evidence. Jeremy then had to face the media to explain his release. It was enormously difficult to sit in front of the press answering questions about why it had been ‘messed up’, whether there was a killer out there and what the police were doing about it. The best approach was to be totally honest and impassionate (sic) about what the police were trying to do; this seemed to make the journalists empathise. There was good reason to think that Siôn Jenkins had carried out the murder but the evidence was not overwhelming.The police decided that they would make sure the media knew this so if Jenkins was found not guilty they would have all the facts…
Bizarrely, the empathy of journalists for the police seems to have been more important to Paine than the fact that the evidence was ‘not overwhelming’. This insight into his own version of events indicates that the chief priority was for the police to seem to be right whatever the outcome.
The lack of compelling evidence was clearly no obstacle to Paine’s need to show himself to be right.
It is worth noting that within a fortnight of Jeremy Paine’s performance at Cumberland Lodge, the Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, was forced to resign because of the force’s mishandling of the James Ashley case in 1998, and the then Home Secretary spoke of the need to restore public confidence in Sussex Police. All was not well.
March 2004 :Jeremy Paine speaks
In an article in The Independent on 06 March 2004 Jeremy Paine makes the emphatic statement “I would not have charged him with murder unless I was utterly convinced he was guilty of this crime. I remain convinced of it.’
But then, he would say that, wouldn’t he? That’s been the problem all the time.
Somehow, though, his comment has a hollow ring to it.
July 2004: protesting too much?
The immediate comment from Chief Superintendent Jeremy Paine following the appeal result was that Sussex police had not been criticised in any way. He barely alluded to the fact that Siôn Jenkins’conviction — till now a jewel in the crown of Sussex police — had been deemed unsafe. His reaction had a rather defensive tone.
The fact remains, though, that the way the police dealt with the children was criticised by judges on both previous occasions when this case has been before the courts.
It is important not to forget the prejudicial interview, conducted by police on 20 March 1997, with Siôn Jenkins’ daughters, in the presence of their mother — but in the absence of the family’s social worker. Ian Vinall had a statutory duty to be in attendance. He was meant to stand as an advocate, there to safeguard the best interests of the children. This was, in effect, a failure of child protection which had far-reaching consequences. At the very least, this disturbing experience was likely to have had some influence on the childrens’ recollection and interpretation of events.
It is worth noting this extract from the appeal judgement of 1999, in which appeal judges refer to the comments of Mr Justice Gage at the original trial.
“84. The judge said that it might have been better if the police officers themselves had not conducted the session of 20 March, and if matters such as the appellant’s alleged deception to obtain his teaching post, and violence towards the children and their mother had not been mentioned. We agree, and would be inclined to express our concerns about this aspect of the investigation rather less circumspectly.”
The criticism of Sussex police voiced on those two occasions is as serious today as it was twenty years ago.
The Jenkins case launched the celebrity career of Jeremy Paine, whose chief claim to fame was that he had solved the Jenkins murder. The following link to the BBC website used to highlight the fact. Once the second appeal was imminent, all reference to the Jenkins case was excised from his ‘Crimewatch’ presenter profile, though much was made of his role in the Sarah Payne case and the Abducted Children initiative. Today his BBC ‘Crimewatch’ profile no longer graces the BBC website.
Jeremy Paine retired from his role as Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex in 2010.
For the past twenty years a murderer has walked free, remains free, and could still be a danger to children. Yet Jeremy Paine managed to slip the tether of the Jenkins case and soar to great career heights before fading out of sight.
Spin rules: the Jeremy Paine story has been carefully airbrushed for public consumption.