A tale of two newspapers

Once again the Daily Mail of 19 August 2010 published an intrusive and distasteful piece about Siôn Jenkins’ life since his acquittal.

In doing so it demonstrates the worst features of tabloid journalism. The article, a double page spread in the paper’s Femail section, consists of spiteful comment and speculation which adds nothing to the sum of human knowledge.

Its ostensible focus is compensation refused , but that is two-year old news. The article serves no purpose other than to be gratuitously offensive. It re-uses old photos and adopts the cowardly tactic of quoting ‘former friends’. Its inappropriate comments amount to pointless gossip.

At the time of the acquittal, the journalist Peter Wilby, writing about Siôn Jenkins’ ‘fourth trial’ by the media, referred to allegations that never came before a jury:

These are unconfirmed allegations largely from a single source : Jenkins’s ex-wife, Lois, who gave her full twenty thousand-word account to the *Mail on Sunday*.

Most papers … reported them without any hint that it was possible to question them.

New Statesman. 20 February 2006

For some reason , the Daily Mail seems to want to resume an untimely trial by media, raking over the ashes and offering nothing of value. What might that reason be? Its cavalier disregard about the invasion of an individual’s privacy is breathtaking.

By contrast, the Guardian of 20 August 2010 offers a welcome fresh perspective in its interview with Siôn Jenkins about the issues raised by the recent contentious Ministry of Justice prononouncement about ‘clear innocence’.

Factual and objective, this piece informs and explains, clarifying a topic with serious implications for a society which aspires to deliver true and impartial justice. Siôn Jenkins’ comments are reported in a straightforward manner, contributing to a thoughtful analysis of an important aspect of the British criminal justice system. Erwin James’ piece opens an important debate about a fundamental principle of justice

What price justice ?

The announcement that Siôn Jenkins had been denied compensation was not new information. It may be entertaining to speculate about the timing of the ‘revelation’. It may be interesting to reflect on the motive of certain elements of the media for having seized ravenously on the story.

The outcome — surely unintended — was that it immediately became evident that there wass an abiding public concern about the fact that Billie-Jo’s killer has still not been found. The messages received by this website were very clear on the issue.

The compensation story had the effect of focusing public attention on the fact that Sussex Police have done nothing since Siôn Jenkins was acquitted. The response was: “We will continue actively to pursue any viable lines of enquiry put to us but none have emerged.” They offered no definition of ‘viable’ but the term was vague enough to obscure their inaction.

This is perhaps unsurprising at a time when the government’s explicit intention is to save public funding. What is more, the Jenkins case was estimated to have cost an unprecendented sum of public money in the three high-profile trials which took place over a period of years. In the current economic climate Sussex Police would not want to increase their expenditure of public funding still further.

The irony is that the original investigation was woefully flawed, and that fact has never been honestly confronted. Truth and justice have become expendable.

The real priority

A Press Association piece of 11 August made it abundantly clear that Siôn Jenkins’ overriding concern is for Sussex Police to re-investigate the case so that Billie-Jo’s killer can be found

With the passage of years attention on the case of Siôn Jenkins has faded, lives have inevitably moved on, but the unanswered questions remain. In the cold light of reason the case brought against him in 1997 does not bear close scrutiny. Time and other events bring a changed perspective.

With the perspective of time, a new transparency is perhaps possible. The Guardian’s Justice on Trial comments: “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 need for the truth is still compelling. The shadow of Billie-Jo’s tragic death will linger until her killer is identified.

This campaign upholds the aim of justice enhanced and believes that it is finally time to confront the errors made in the Jenkins case.

The cruellest month?

August is an empty month for the media. Perhaps it is no wonder that those lacking substance resort to ‘a heap of broken images’ to pick over and offer as something new.

The irony is that in doing so they shone a light on Sussex Police and reminded the public of their shameful inertia.