The Wife’s story

The Context

The Sunday Times of 9 February 2003 makes the announcement ‘Lois Jenkins breaks her silence about the day that shattered her family.’

Six years after the murder the ex-wife of Siôn Jenkins has written a meandering exploration of the past and the present. She outlines a very personal agenda, and makes a series of bitter accusations, aimed at both her former husband and the legal system.

Lois Jenkins now lives abroad with a new partner and their child, moving on, as she says, with a new life which includes the four daughters of her marriage to Siôn Jenkins. It appears, however, that even at a great distance from the scene of events six years ago, anonymity still evades her and she is ‘regularly’ pursued by the media.

In spite of deciding that she would not speak publicly, and even though she states that she has not changed her view on speaking publicly, she has somehow found it in herself to articulate a stream of opinion and insinuation from which fact is conspicuously absent.

By using a national newspaper to make her comments, Lois Jenkins effectively chooses to relinquish the privacy she previously sought to protect.

Her motives for writing the piece invite scrutiny : what incentive would there be for an item like this? As the Sunday Times points out in the short article advertising her disclosures, the timing is not accidental.

The feature occupies an entire page. Its layout is instructive. There is a huge three word headline. A large photograph of Billie-Jo provides the dominant central image. A smaller photo of Lois Jenkins has the caption ‘grief stricken ’. At the bottom of the page is a photo of Siôn Jenkins, his hand outstretched, identified as ‘The control freak who was convicted of murder’. Alongside the photograph of him is a rerun of coverage at the time of the murder which includes — with no substantiation — the glib assertion that he was ‘prone to violent outbursts of temper against his wife and others’. The rest of this section consists of the six year old opinions of Detective Superintendent Jeremy Paine [ who rose to media fame on the wings of this case, becoming a BBC Crimewatch presenter] , those of an anonymous detective, and Mr Justice Gage’s comments at the original trial.

The words of Lois Jenkins are set around these visual props with their insidious associations. Her message is confused and lacks focus. At one moment she evokes anodyne images of the past; at the next she makes strangely dismissive generalisations : ‘To me it is tragic that we are so concerned to pursue justice to the end…’

Although Siôn Jenkins is the object of her attack, she never mentions him by name, referring to him as ‘their father’ or ‘the person with whom I spent 14 years of married life&squo;. Such explicit and deliberate distancing communicates a great deal.

Innuendo is at the heart of her comments; the suggestive aura of domestic violence surrounds the carefully created self-portrait. That hint is false. It will be challenged.

She claims to be ‘privy to much information about the events of February 15th 1997’, implying that she knows things others can only imagine. The truth is that she was by no means the only person privy to those events, but ever since then, she has made strenuous efforts to resist any alternative version being put forward.

By speaking out so publicly in a national newspaper Lois Jenkins lays herself and her opinions open to challenge. Her behaviour faces scrutiny of a kind she has not so far had to encounter; her insinuations will be confronted.

Media smears may have damaged Siôn Jenkins at the time of the murder. Today the lies have all been told; he has nothing left to lose and everything to gain.

The content

The Sunday Times identifies the main purpose of the article as an attack by Lois Jenkins on what she refers to as ‘the justice industry’. Since the paper was the commissioning agent for the feature, the reader must be guided by its definition.

Lois Jenkins begins with a reference to six years of being regularly pursued by ‘the media in general’ to talk, among other things, about events before the murder. She attributes their persistence to what she describes as her desire to maintain a degree of integrity. She has evidently written a book and decided not to publish it, but paradoxically, still feels the need to mention its existence.

She stresses the moral purpose for going into print on this occasion, “to allow lessons to be learnt and to help those trying to cope with similar experiences.”

She then changes to narrative mode, and outlines some of the events on the day of the murder. She tells the reader that the day began with “the usual bustle of a busy family, the organised chaos I so lovehellip;” She creates an atmosphere of normality and happiness. The same atmosphere re-emerges in the final section of the article, in which she details Billie’s rapid progress in many areas during her time with the family. There are references to six years of travelling , camping, visiting places and people.

There were cycle rides, horse riding, trips to London with friends — in fact a portrait of a rather idyllic family life in what she calls ‘an imposing Victorian house’. There is no indication of the dark atmosphere she later evokes in the wake of the murder.

In the episode where she describes being called back home that afternoon to discover what had happened, she includes a remarkable amount of detail, even down to a memory from her days as a student nurse. She paints an elaborate picture of her own feelings in those moments, and the reactions of her daughters on being told of Billie’s death.

In striking contrast she then glosses over a prolonged period of time in two starkly chilling sentences : “Just over a year later their father was convicted of Billie -Jo’s murder. Eighteen months later he lost an appeal.” The fact that “he continues to proclaim his innocence” is made to sound like an aberration by her next comment : “The girls and I have coped.”

This complete dismissal of a complex sequence of contentious happenings is startling. Lois Jenkins makes absolutely no acknowledgement of the time between the murder and Siôn Jenkins’ conviction sixteenth months later. It is, of course, the right of an author, when reconstructing events, to select particular details and omit others. However, the exclusion of these crucial months, like her exclusion of Siôn Jenkins’ name in her writing, makes an eloquent statement. It is as if the period of the investigation leading up to the trial was an irrelevance, and yet that time was full of events which had profound consequences both for the family and the outcome of the trial.

From the bald assertion of her husband’s guilt, Lois Jenkins makes a sudden leap to unexplained hints. “Why didn’t I realise?” she asks, tantalising the reader into asking ‘realise what?’ Anticipating the question, Lois Jenkins refers, in a burst of self-deprecation, to her own “naivety and trusting nature.” She immediately goes on to mention her husband’s violent outbursts, making an association without any connecting fact.

These ‘outbursts’ have received no mention until now; there has been no evidence that they ever took place. Yet they suddenly become accepted as fact. This is justified by the moral stance she claims for herself,“to protect others from knowing my private reality.” Her disparaging comment about his ‘pillar of the community presentation’ is directly lifted from the most sensational tabloid reporting immediately after the conviction. She does not make a single specific allegation against Siôn Jenkins. Instead, through innuendo, she manufactures a menacing fantasy for the reader.

She states: “most of the time we functioned well as a family”. That is probably true of a large number of families. The perfect family exists only inthe imagination. Marriages go through difficulties of various kinds. She continues : “the children were great, we were gregarious and popular.” Children do not thrive in a deeply unhappy home:all the evidence points to a lively, well organised family, engaging in a variety of activities.

Yet according to Lois Jenkins even though she herself describes the family as ‘strong and stable’ she now knows that this was not enough. What does she mean by this? It is as if she is reconstructing the past to force it into a particular relationship to the present.

The comment “…domestic violence can never be excused or tolerated” is true, and certainly suggestive : but no fact is given to substantiate the insinuation that she was a victim of domestic violence. Generalisation is used to imply fact. “Just because you present well as a family, work hard and are liked, it is wrong to assume you need to accept bullying or abuse in private, or that it will stop at you.” Lois Jenkins’ manipulative language is deliberately damaging.

Without explanation she states: “It was wrong of me to believe that such outbursts would not start again.”
Her reference to ‘outbursts’ is given no context, but the reader is presented with the unsupported assumption that outbursts must have happened.

From here she moves on to claim that the most disturbing fact she was faced with was that her husband had “fabricated his past”.

The falsified CV would, certainly, be judged by many as inexcusable; for Lois Jenkins it apparently confirmed that her husband was guilty of murder. This discovery meant “my many niggling doubts [about what?] and fears of the of the past [which fears?] began to fall into place.”

Although she says that the family has been “stalked, pestered and pursued since 1997” she also feels that “life is good now, calm…”. Why, then, has she invested so much energy in reawakening painful memories?.

What exactly does she want to achieve?

Her strident attack on what she denounces as the “justice industry” strikes a strangely dissonant note. However, as the Sunday Times itself emphasises, this is the core of the article, and provides the real focus. Such savage criticism of the right of appeal in the legal system is disturbing. Its implications are sinister. The fact that capital punishment no longer exists is something to be thankful for.

A major item like this in a national newspaper is the product of considerable negotiation and planning. Its purpose and timing are carefully calculated. Under scrutiny, the text prompts many more questions than it answers.

Lois Jenkins’ posture as the guardian of unspeakable secrets may seem unassailable. As she confidently says “others can only speculate”, and this is precisely what this piece invites the reader to do. Unless she can deliver some verifiable evidence, though, her claims are meaningless.

Some facts to consider:

  • The Jenkins home in Hastings was always full of children and other families.
  • There was always an au pair in the house.
  • Lois Jenkins led the life of an independent working woman.
  • Lois Jenkins worked for Social Services with its attendant ethical code.
  • Lois Jenkins would have been professionally aware of the risks of bringing a vulnerable child who “had to cope with many difficulties unimaginable to most children her age” into an abusive household. If she is speaking the truth she was, according to her own account, prepared to do so.
  • Siôn Jenkins was frequently the carer for the children while his wife went to work in London. She did not hesitate, expecting him to do his fair share of caring for the children.
  • The children were outgoing and confident, often seen to be boisterous with their father, who had an easygoing, indulgent manner with them.
  • Lois Jenkins is a volatile woman capable of confrontational behaviour.
  • Lois Jenkins readily voiced irritation to others about her husband’s vagueness and lack of practical skills.
  • Lois Jenkins has strenuously fought against any attempt to question Siôn Jenkins’ conviction
  • She has sent angry messages to the campaign website
  • She has confronted people who she suspected of being sympathetic to his cause
  • She tried to prevent the screening of the ‘Trial & Error’ programme questioning the conviction. She even went to the press to express her views. She later complained about it — unsuccessfully — to the Broadcasting Standards Commission.
  • She did not attempt to block ‘Trail of Guilt’, a programme which presented the police case.

Lois Jenkins’ version of the story is not the only one.