Billie-Jo: In an extraordinary attack on her ex-husband, Lois Jenkins says he was violent and a liar

Three trials and nine years after the murder of his foster-daughter, Sion Jenkins is hit by fresh claims about his character. Cole Moreton and Sophie Goodchild report
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Her story is one that was never put before the jurors in the trial of Sion Jenkins, the former deputy headmaster accused of bludgeoning his foster daughter Billie-Jo to death with a tent peg.

But now Lois Jenkins has broken her silence to give a devastating account of her life with her 48-year-old ex-husband, who walked free from the Old Bailey last week after his second retrial collapsed.

In an interview with a national newspaper, the mother of five alleges that Jenkins was a liar with a controlling nature who began physically beating her in the first years of their marriage, used a stick to inflict corporal punishment on their daughters and had frequent mood swings.

Thirteen-year-old Billie-Jo had been living with the Jenkins family for five years when she was found dead at the family home in Hastings, East Sussex, in 1997.

Sion Jenkins became the main suspect, and a month later he was charged with murder. In 1998, he was given a life sentence after being found guilty at Lewes Crown Court, but six years later his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. A retrial followed but jurors failed to reach a verdict, which happened again last week.

Now living in Tasmania, Mrs Jenkins reveals in her account of their marriage published in The Mail on Sunday that her testimony was ruled inadmissable in court along with her claims that he had a sexual encounter with a teenage girl who bore a strong resemblance to Billie-Jo.

Just four days after her foster child was found dead, Mrs Jenkins says she began to suspect her husband might have carried out the savage killing.

"I can recall with clarity the look in his eyes as he told the children, 'Billie's dead'. It had no trace of emotion," she said. " I woke up in the middle of the night as he turned over in bed and it dawned on me it could have been him. I lay there terrified, thinking it must be him ­ and if it wasn't him, at least it could have been him."

In a 7,000-word account, Mrs Jenkins, who now lives with a martial arts expert who is the father of her baby, says that the murder of Billie-Jo "destroyed" her self-confidence, made her feel guilty, tested her confidence in the legal system and was also the reason that she left England.

In the days after Billie-Jo's death, she says it was as though her former husband "wasn't there".

"He offered no comfort. I felt let down and also faintly embarrassed. I wondered if our friends had noticed his detachment," she writes.

To outsiders, the Jenkins family appeared to have the perfect life. Their home was in one of the most attractive parts of Hastings, on the side of an old sandstone gorge along which sprawls the splendidly renovated Victorian park. The castle and the coloured terraces of Old Town can be seen in the distance, and the sea is only a mile away. But house prices remain relatively low: a six-bedroom property a few doors down is on the market for £275,000.

Billie-Jo had an apparently comfortable life with Sion and Lois Jenkins and their four daughters, having been put up for fostering because her father was in prison and her mother could not cope.

In what she describes as her "tribute" to her dead foster daughter, Mrs Jenkins describes Billie-Jo as having a sense of fun and warmth.

"I grew to love her and regard her as my own daughter. She had a good rapport with Sion and I truly believe that she was happy with her new family. "

Mr Jenkins had a good job, as the deputy headmaster of William Parker School in Hastings. But after a few years he started hankering after becoming a headmaster in London and also decided that he wanted to become a politician, even joining the Conservative party despite his left-wing leanings.

It was at this point that Mrs Jenkins says that he began to lie about himself and that this created tensions and rows within the marriage.

"He wrote a small manifesto about himself which I knew to be inaccurate. He said that he was a regular theatre-goer, yet we hadn't been to a theatre performance for six years. We argued endlessly about his strange behaviour."

These were not the only lies he told. Police discovered that he had lied on his CV, claiming to have been educated at the public school Gordonstoun, to secure his job at William Parker School. He had also exaggerated his academic qualifications, and was afraid of getting found out.

At home, he had a violent temper which lead to angry outbursts if he felt that his control was being challenged. Mrs Jenkins says that she never believed that his behaviour was "normal".

"I think he felt insecure. I never thought his behaviour was normal but I got used to it. I ended up feeling sorry for him as I felt he was a victim of emotions that he couldn't control."

What worried her more was him punishing their children with a stick after attending a series of talks on the disciplining of children by a man called James Dobson, the author of Dare To Discipline which was popular in the church that they had attended in London.

On 15 February Lois Jenkins took her daughters Esther, 9, and Maya, 7, for a walk on the seafront while her husband stayed at home with Annie, 12, who was clearing out a utility room, and Billie-Jo, 13, who was painting the outside of the French windows at the back of the house.

Lottie, 10, was at a clarinet lesson. At 3pm Mr Jenkins drove off in his MG car with Annie to pick her up. Shortly after the three of them came back to the house, Mr Jenkins said he would have to get some white spirit from a DIY store to clean up the splashes of paint Billie-Jo had made. The prosecution maintained there was then "a short gap in time" while he was in the house alone with Billie-Jo and his daughters were waiting outside for him.

Enough time to fly into a rage, bludgeon her to death with the metal spike then recover his composure enough to face his daughters, the prosecution claimed, even though it could only have been no more than three minutes. Mr Jenkins then got back into the MG. Lottie told the court she thought it was "weird" that he drove round the park twice and then realised when he got to the store that he had no money. The journey took about 15 minutes.

Lottie was the first to find Billie-Jo when they got back to the house, calling out, "Dad!" Mr Jenkins ushered his daughters into a playroom, then called 999, telling the operator that Billie-Jo had injuries to her head and face. It would later emerge that the left side of her skull had been shattered by multiple blows.

There has only been one other suspect, a man known for legal reasons as Mr B. He had a "rather confused conversation" with the owner of a guest house whose front doorbell he rang, before going off in the direction of the town centre, which would have taken him past the Jenkins home. While in custody he behaved strangely, once being found lying in a foetal position in his police cell with part of a plastic bag held up to his nose. Two more fragments of plastic were found in his underpants. This appeared significant because when Billie-Jo's body was examined, part of a black plastic bin bag was found stuffed deep inside one of her nostrils. However, the police say all but one of the witnesses who saw Mr B in the park on the day of the murder placed him at least 15 minutes away from the house at the crucial moment. Forensic tests ruled him out, say police.

Three days after the murder, Mr and Mrs Jenkins gave an emotional press conference at which they spoke of their distress at the killing of Billie-Jo. But when detectives unearthed the truth about the teacher's lack of qualifications they saw this as evidence that he was a liar. Mr Jenkins became the main suspect, and a month later was charged with murder.

In July 1998 a jury at Lewes Crown Court found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. The main evidence against him was that his clothing contained 148 spots of Billie-Jo's blood that were invisible to the naked eye. The prosecution said they could only have got there if he had killed her. No motive was established. After serving six years in prison, Mr Jenkins had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal in 2004. New scientific evidence suggested the blood could have soaked into his clothing as he bent down to see if his foster daughter was breathing, or cradled her in his arms.

A retrial was ordered, and while waiting for it Mr Jenkins was remarried to a millionaire antiques dealer called Christina Ferneyhough, who had written him a letter of support while he was in prison. The retrial began at the Old Bailey in April last year but the jury was discharged after failing to agree a verdict.

At the second retrial, the prosecution suggested he was a liar and a bully who flew into a rage and bludgeoned his foster daughter to death with a weapon that had come to hand. The defence suggested he was a caring man who became the victim of bad luck and even worse forensic evidence. The jury could not agree. The prosecution said it would not press for a retrial, and the judge recorded a verdict of not guilty.

Out on the steps of the Old Bailey, Mr Jenkins railed against the police he called "wilfully blind and incompetent" and vowed to work to find the killer. But Billie-Jo's family were not convinced. As Mr Jenkins sat outside the court with his legal team he was kicked and punched by two women who later identified themselves as Maggie Coster and Bev Williams, aunts of Billie-Jo. Their attacks drew blood. Mrs Coster later said the family would bring a civil case, as the judge had not allowed the court to hear new scientific evidence that showed the bloodspots on Mr Jenkins clothing also contained tiny fragments of Billie-Jo's bone. "We will see him in court again," she said. "This is not the end."

TOUCHED BY TRAGEDY

Billie-Jo Jenkins

Placed in foster care at eight. Murdered five years later. Told friends she had been struck by her foster father. Police called her "a bright, lively 13-year-old".

Bill Jenkins

Billie-Jo's birth father. Was hoping to win back custody. Now lives in east London with a new partner. Said of Sion Jenkins: "I didn't like him at all."

Debbie Jenkins

Billie-Jo's birth mother. Said she put her children into care because her husband was violent, but now believes she "sent Billie-Jo to her death".

Lois Jenkins

Billie-Jo's foster mother. Out of the house when murder took place. Now lives in Tasmania. Told appeal court her ex-husband "had a short, sharp temper".

Sion Jenkins

Billie-Jo's foster father. Acquitted of her murder last week at the Old Bailey. Accused police of being "wilfully blind and incompetent".

'Mr B'

A second suspect for the murder. He was seen acting strangely in nearby park and was arrested but unfit for interview. Police say they have ruled him out. "Mr B is a red herring."