The murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins, it seems, will join the list of unsolved murders in Hastings. The public still awaits news of progress on a string of murders over the past two decades. In reality , they have effectively been shelved.
How do Sussex police manage to cover up this serious issue which has real implications for the safety of the town? Public forgetfulness is a useful tool while the guilty escape detection.
In January 1998 two women were murdered in Hastings within days of each other. Their story did not have the high-profile international coverage of the Billie-Jo Jenkins murder. Their murderer was found twelve years after their deaths.
Every January for several years the police made statements in the local press, stressing that they were confident that ever-improving techniques would soon enable them to make an arrest. In 2003 they claimed for the first time that they had a ’significant suspect’ , that his clothes were being subjected to the most advanced DNA testing, and that he knew the police were interested in him. Nothing more was heard. The whole event was left to fade from public memory.
Sussex police eventually charged a man with the murders of those two women, Dawn O’ Connor and Clare Letchford.
However, the murderer of Billie-Jo Jenkins remains undetected. Elsewhere in Sussex, the Watson murder of 1996 has never been solved ; that case, too,had involved yet another high profile miscarriage of justice.
Justice, it seems, has a shelf-life of around ten years.
Yet another Chief Constable for Sussex
The most recent Chief Constable of Sussex , Martin Richards, took up his post on 1 October 2007. He leads a force which, for more than a decade, has been responsible for a series of high-profile blunders documented on this website and elsewhere.
The investigation into the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins was one of them.
Twelve years after her murder Billie-Jo’s killer remains at large but Sussex Police have effectively washed their hands of the case. This is despite the fact that there are still unanswered questions about DNA testing in the search for her murderer.
After Siôn Jenkins was finally cleared of the charges against him in 2006, fresh evidence was sent to Detective Chief Inspector Graham Pratt, the officer in charge of the Jenkins case at that stage. It was never followed up. By coincidence during 2006, DCI Pratt was re-launching the investigation into the Chichester crimes even though the original investigation had been “wound down”.
Interestingly, the officer who issued a formal apology for the failures of Sussex police in Chichester is none other than Jeremy Paine. Jeremy Paine had a key role during 1997/8 in bringing about the wrongful conviction of Siôn Jenkins in 1998.
The Sussex Police website account of that event included the reassuring infomation that “…improved systems have been developed for the proper closure of major crime investigations that remain unsolved, and then for regular review to ensure that any outstanding actions are properly dealt with.”
This campaign invites Chief Constable Richards and his force to reconsider the case of Siôn Jenkins — a case which has become synonymous with the term ‘miscarriage of justice’.
2008: justice delayed
Sussex police have their fourth Chief Constable since the murder of Billie-Jo in 1997. The most prominent police officers involved have moved on in their careers or retired from the force. For some, new lives have been built. Forgetting would be easy — and a relief to certain people.
A memorial bench, dedicated to Billie-Jo, now stands in Alexandra Park in Hastings, to ensure that she will not be forgotten. It was put there by her family and friends. At the dedication ceremony on 19 January a member of her family stated: “We will never give up our fight for justice.”
Her murderer has never been found. That fact must also be remembered. The need for justice is as real today as it was at the start of this tragic story which will only be concluded when the real killer is identified.
April 2008: The Ashley case continues
In January 1998 James Ashley was shot dead by Sussex police. A decade later the House of Lords has ruled that his family are entitled to sue the force for unlawful killing. This ruling comes after ten years during which the force has consistently tried to evade responsibility for their actions.There has been a long and difficult struggle to make Sussex police accountable for their actions.
In June 1998 the case against Linda Watson collapsed. This was a clear miscarriage of justice for which — eventually — Sussex police had to apologise and pay compensation.
1n July 1998 Siôn Jenkins was wrongly convicted of murder, the victim of a major miscarriage of justice due to the actions of Sussex police.
Today the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins remains unsolved and Sussex police remain impervious to criticism of their handling of the case. In abandoning the investigation they may hope that people will forget, that ‘justice fatigue’ will take over, and they will cease to care. They are wrong. Ordinary people do care about the truth.
The Ashley family bear witness to that important fact.
October 2007: Sussex Police blunder again
Once again Sussex police have made a major error in an investigation. Their mistake meant that a convicted rapist was able to continue attacking women over a four year period. A DNA sample taken by Sussex police in 2002 was not sent away for analysis until four years later in 2006. On 15 October 2007 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
IPCC investigation into the the Jenkins case
The Observer of 12 February 2006 reported that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was to begin an investigation into the way Sussex police handled the case of Siôn Jenkins.
The outcome of that report is awaited with keen interest by all who are aware of the many different ways in which Sussex Police misused their powers in the conduct of the case over a nine year period.
Another Chief Constable for Sussex
Joe Edwards took up this important post on 17 February 2006, at a time when the reputation of the force was being seriously questioned. While his prime concern may be the future of the force and the plans for its eventual merger with Surrey police, it is vital that he does not evade the past. The conduct of Sussex Police over the past decade has, on occasions, been shameful. The man who now leads that force should have the courage to confront the past as he prepares for a better future.
February 2006 — The Ashley case goes on
The family of James Ashley have applied for permission to pursue a damages claim against Paul Whitehouse, who was chief constable of Sussex at the time of his shooting in Hastings in 1998. At that very time Sussex police were finalising their case against Siôn Jenkins. Paul Whitehouse admitted that Sussex police were negligent over the shooting, and yet the four officers involved were cleared of all charges. Challenging their application in court, Mr Whitehouse’s barrister asked what benefit such an action could bring, and what more could be obtained beyond the guarantee of compensation already received by the family.
The answer is that someone should be held accountable for what happened.
In May 2001 at the Old Bailey,the officer who fired the fatal shot was found not guilty of murder on the direction of the judge.Three weeks later, at Wolverhampton Crown Court, the same judge then instructed the jury to return a not guilty verdict on four other officers involved in the shooting and charged with misconduct.
Coincidentally, it was this judge who presided over Siôn Jenkins’ first retrial in 2005.
July 2005 — Complaints continue
Over the eight years since Billie-Jo Jenkins was murdered, there has been regular public criticism of Sussex police by a series of police and IPCC investigations. The implications for the Jenkins case cannot be lightly dismissed.
Even in the eleven months since we were forced offline the failures of Sussex police have continued to make the news.
1 July 2005: Following an internal disciplinary investigation supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) a Sussex detective based at Gatwick airport has been asked to resign after charges of making racist and homophobic remarks were upheld. Another Gatwick-based officer resigned in November 2004 when the complaint was first made.
The Abatan Case
As recently as 29 June 2005 misconduct charges against two detective inspectors involved in the Abatan case were upheld. One officer received two cautions and the other a reprimand. At the start of 2005 a Sussex detective Superintendent was fined nine days’ pay after five misconduct charges against him were upheld.
The IPCC has urged Sussex police to release full details of the report into the investigation by Avon and Somerset police in 2003, two years after the first report by Essex police in 2001.The reports strongly criticised Sussex police for failing to take Jay Abatan’s death seriously and ignoring important witnesses.A total of 57 inconsistencies, failures and inexplicable decisions were highlighted in the original police investigation.
A statement released by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after the 29 June tribunal read: “Graphic evidence emerged that the original criminal investigation had suffered from disorganisation and was not given sufficient resources”
The Ashley Case
In February 2005 Sussex police refused a request, made by the Ashley family under the Freedom of Information Act, to see the two reports which had been compiled about the shooting. The family was attempting to sue the force for abuse of power, but were blocked from doing so in the High Court. That effort goes on. The force, however, ‘admitted police negligence’ in the case.
May 2004 — Troubled times
The Abatan Case
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published its report on the flawed investigation by Sussex police into the murder of Jay Abatan in Brighton five years ago. No one has ever been charged with that murder. In January 2001 an investigation by Essex police produced damning evidence about the competence and procedures of Sussex police in the Abatan case. Disciplinary action against individual officers was to follow.
As Siôn Jenkins’ appeal date approached, questions were once again being asked about the operations of Sussex police. Both internally and externally, concerns were being voiced.
The Ashley Case
The Sussex Police force was taken to court by a number of its own officers over the way they were treated after being charged in connection with the fatal shooting of James Ashley six years ago. Compensation for the Ashley family was being negotiated, as Sussex police admitted the operation had been flawed.
January 2004 — The same old story
In January 1998 two vulnerable women were murdered, eight days apart, in Hastings. Coming barely a year after the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins, the crimes caused shockwaves locally. Yet six years on those murders are still unsolved.
Each year since then, around the January anniversary, the local paper has carried a story reporting progress on the investigation, with police quotes stressing that they are now much nearer finding the culprit. For two successive years readers were told about astonishing ‘new’ DNA technology which would enable the killer to be unmasked.
That has never happened.
The police spin has now become an annual event : each year the story is almost the same.
In 2004 it continues to run. The Hastings Observer of 23rd January contained an item claiming that the “murder probe is still active six years on”.The detective Chief Inspector in charge of the case repeated the claim that there is a “significant suspect”. Still, though, no one has been charged.
The paper reports that the DCI …reiterated his comments from last year that “the suspect knows of our interest, and we continue to hope to resolve it.” He again stated, meaningfully, “At this stage we are happy that he presents no threat to anyone.”
What underlies this bizarre annual ritual, and what does it say about the operations of Sussex police in Hastings?
Justice is promised but never delivered.
Alarmingly, at least seven murders in the town remain unsolved. In addition, there is the murder of Billie-Jo, for which Siôn Jenkins, an innocent man, was conveniently — but wrongly — convicted, while the real killer is still at large.
November 2003 — Sussex police: more disclosures
As preparations for Siôn Jenkins’ second appeal went ahead, Sussex police were, once again, in the news.
- Ashley shooting
- Ken Jones,Chief Constable of Sussex police, travelled to Liverpool to apologise in person to the family of James Ashley for his killing by Sussex police officers.
- Brutal beating
- The force has had to pay compensation to a man beaten up during the course of an arrest. The incident was captured on camera and was shown on television news.
- Child pornography
- A former Hastings based police inspector admitted in court to several counts of downloading pornographic images of children while still a serving police officer. He was given a custodial sentence and his name was placed on the sex offenders’ register.
December 2002: Another blunder by Sussex police
Once again there was a question mark over the operations of Sussex Police force.
Two women, wrongly charged with murder, were awarded substantial damages for the injustice they suffered at the hands of Sussex police. By agreeing that Linda Watson and her daughter were entitled to compensation, the Home Secretary acknowledged the disastrous failure by a force which, over the past eight years has attracted sharp criticism for the incompetence of its operations.
The women were each awarded £25,000 as interim compensation under the Home Secretary’s scheme for miscarriage of justice. Sussex police were forced to apologise and acknowledge their complete innocence. This unusual move, and the size of the award, indicated the extreme gravity of the situation.
The murder of Richard Watson took place in December 1996, two months before the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins.
For most of 1997 and early 1998 Sussex police were simultaneously investigating these two high profile cases, using the same systems and methods.There were serious shortcomings in their handling of both cases in which the quest for a successful prosecution was a priority. An independent inquiry concluded thatthe police “failed to keep an open mind”. The same is true in the case of Siôn Jenkins.
The Watson case collapsed in June 1998, in the very same week that Siôn Jenkins’ trial came to court.In July 1998 Paul Whitehouse, in his report to the Sussex Police Authority, explicitly linked the Watson case with the Jenkins case, stressing “that both were investigated with the same high degree of integrity and professionalism…”
In the light of this recent development his comment is eloquent.
Linda Watson is quoted as saying “truths that were so obvious were so deliberately misconstrued”.
This telling obervation has a powerful resonance with the Jenkins case.
Sussex police: more bad news — October 2002
There were fresh revelations casting doubt on the professionalism and integrity of Sussex police.
Three officers were disciplined in connection with a flawed murder investigation in Brighton in December 2001. Once again the force was being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority for its failure to act properly.
A senior Hastings police officer was charged with 27 child pornography offences, and resigned.
The treatment of Siôn Jenkins by Sussex police was a matter of controversy for many years. In that time there was abundant evidence of their incompetence. That evidence can only reinforce public doubts over their behaviour in the Jenkins case in 1997/98.
2001: a disturbing record
Three times in a single year, following investigation by an external body, the Sussex police force was castigated for its incompetence, inefficiency and lack of integrity.
- January 2001
The police complaints authority produced a damning report about the way Sussex police conducted a murder case which was being investigated at the same time as the Billie-Jo Jenkins murder.
The murder of Richard Watson took place in December 1996, two months before Billie-Jo’s death. For most of 1997 and early 1998 Sussex police were simultaneously investigating two high profile cases, using common systems and methods.There were serious shortcomings in their handling of both cases in which the quest for a successful prosecution was a priority.
The Watson case collapsed in June 1998, in the same week that Siôn Jenkins’ trial came to court.In July 1998 Paul Whitehouse, in his report to the Sussex Police Authority, explicitly linked the Watson case with the Jenkins case, stressing “that both were investigated with the same high degree of integrity and professionalism…”
This was reported across the county in PATROL, the force’s newsheet.
The judgement of the police complaints authority adds an interesting twist to the comment.
An Essex police investigation team echoed the PCA’s criticisms, this time over the way Sussex police handled a murder in Brighton in January 1999.
- May 2001
After their investigations into the operations of Sussex police in the Ashley shooting, Kent and Hampshire forces both reported serious flaws. In the course of trying to establish what had happened they had encountered deceit, ‘concocted intelligence’ and a failure to tell the truth which almost amounted to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The James Ashley case, like the Jenkins case, indicates that the priority of Sussex police was to justify their own actions at any cost. In both cases the police were selective with the facts which were shaped to suit their accounts. In both cases, innuendo and character assassination were tactics used to justify the official line.
- July 2001
- The Police Complaints authority investigate allegations of brutality by Sussex police in Hastings.
How many more incidents are needed for the authorities to acknowledge that this force is deeply flawed, and that their handling of the Jenkins case merits close scrutiny ?
A question of credibility
The picture of an incompetent police force in Sussex in the late 1990s has come into focus over the years.
Paul Whitehouse’s resignation as Chief Constable of Sussex police on 26 June 2001 simply reinforced concerns which have been consistently voiced on this website.
The Home Secretary’s unprecedented intervention to end his leadership was prompted by major concerns about the methods and the integrity of Sussex police.
The Home Secretary’s concern over the James Ashley shooting led to the resignation of Paul Whitehouse as Chief Constable of Sussex police. Soon afterwards came news that Sussex police were yet again being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority, this time over allegations of police brutality in Hastings. Hastings is the town where James Ashley was shot, and the town where Siôn Jenkins was charged with murder after a police investigation which has raised many unanswered questions.
The James Ashley case may have brought matters to a head, but there have been serious concerns for many years. The case of Siôn Jenkins is one of a number which point to the need for questions to be answered.
The resignation of Paul Whitehouse underlined the need for a radical examination of the performance and practices of Sussex police.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 following his resignation, Mr. Whitehouse referred specifically to the Jenkins case as an example of efficiency and good practice by his force.The same point has been made in print. In view of continuing public concern about the conviction of Siôn Jenkins, we challenge Paul Whitehouse’s claim.
The conviction of Siôn Jenkins was widely questioned from the outset. There is a belief that it was achieved more by skilful manipulation of the media than by effective police work.
Mr Whitehouse himself emphasised the importance of the ‘post-trial media coverage’ in creating the notion that a good job had been done. Following the conviction, Jeremy Paine, the officer leading the investigation, was promoted; on a wave of personal publicity over the Siôn Jenkins case, he then launched into a media career of his own.
At the time of his departure in 2001, Mr Whitehouse complained of the affront to his integrity, and his concern that leaked documents ‘meant the whole truth had not been reported.’
There is an irony in the fact that he was complaining about precisely the experience inflicted on Siôn Jenkins by his own police force. Even by default, the media can be even-handed.
A time for transparency
When Ken Jones replaced Paul Whitehouse as Chief Constable of Sussex he spoke of the need for ‘a fresh start’. In February 2006, Joe Edwards took over as Chief Constable, to be replaced the following year by Martin Richards.Does he, too, recognise the value of a fresh start as a basis for the credibility of his force?
- Ken Jones personally apologised to the family of James Ashley who was killed by a Hastings officer.
- Commenting on the prison sentence given to a Hastings officer found guilty of downloading child pornography, a police spokesman made it clear that the force will not seek to defend its officers who have broken the law.
The residue of past malpractice lingers on; there are those still suffering the consequences of what was done in the name of the law.
This campaign invites the Chief Constable to confirm that there is indeed a real need to scrutinise the activities of Sussex police in the case of Siôn Jenkins and the other cases identified on this page.
This is an opportunity to rebuild confidence and trust. The first step should be an honest acknowledgement of past mistakes.