One of the daughters of Sion Jenkins, the teacher convicted of murdering his foster daughter Billie-Jo, broke down in court yesterday as she recalled the day her sister was bludgeoned to death.
Charlotte Jenkins, 18, who flew to London from her home in Tasmania to give evidence at her father's appeal against the conviction, was asked about seeing the body of the dead 13-year-old.
Jenkins, 46, was jailed at Lewes Crown Court in 1998 for battering his foster daughter with a metal tent spike at their home in Hastings, East Sussex. It was alleged that, during a three-minute visit to the house, Jenkins had an argument with Billie-Jo and hit her over the head up to 10 times before driving to a DIY store with Charlotte and her sister Annie.
Annie, 19, in a statement read out at the Court of Appeal yesterday, said her father had "hit" Billie-Jo during a previous incident, and punched her.
Neither daughter was called as a witness in the original trial because Jenkins' defence team, believed they had become hostile to their father. They argue that they gained this impression because of false statements made by Jenkins' wife, Lois, who had allegedly turned against him after becoming convinced he was the killer. The couple have since divorced.
The defence says the accounts given by the daughters show their father's innocence, because they prove he would not have had time to commit the murder during the brief call at the house, and strongly suggest that Billie-Jo was killed by an intruder who gained access to their home by the side gate.
Charlotte broke down and the court was adjourned briefly when her father's defence lawyer, Clare Montgomery, QC, asked about her seeing Billie-Jo's body after returning from the shopping trip in February 1997.
Jenkins listened across a crowded courtroom as Miss Montgomery asked Charlotte if she remembered telling her mother that she "knew" her father had killed Billie-Jo, but did not believe he did it deliberately.
She replied: "I may have, because I was confused and kept changing my mind. I can't remember."
She said that, at no time since the murder, had her father ever asked her to say anything that was not true about that day. He had never asked her about it at all.
Charlotte said her father left the house almost straight after her to drive to the DIY store. She added that she remembered thinking it was weird when he drove round the park twice before heading for the DIY shop and then found he had come out without any money.
She thought the side gate was open when they got back and discovered Billie-Jo's body.
At the end of her evidence, the visibly shaken teenager was told she was free to return home after the Crown counsel - defending the conviction - decided not to cross-examine her.
She left the court in London arm in arm with her mother, who is to be called as a witness by the Crown next week.
Later the court heard extracts of two police interviews with Annie Jenkins, who now lives in Australia.
Miss Montgomery read from a transcript of Annie's statements.
When asked by the police whether she had told her mother that she "knew Sion and Billie-Jo had an argument earlier that day", Annie said that she could not remember saying that.
She added that she could not recall Billie-Jo particularly winding her father up on the day she was killed.
"I don't remember dad being cross with Billie-Jo," she said in relation to his alleged reaction over a row the two girls had had about painting the patio doors.
Police officers also questioned Annie about whether she had noticed any blood on her father's hands or clothes at any time during the day.
She answered: "No. I wasn't really looking."
The three appeal court judges have been told that forensic evidence that microscopic blood spots found on Jenkins' clothing could only have resulted from him being the attacker was now open to serious doubt.
Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Curtis and Mr Justice Wakerley are to hear fresh expert evidence that the blood spots were far more likely to have resulted from blood exhaled by the dying girl as Jenkins leant over her to try and help her.
Annie also recalled an incident on a family holiday when her father had lost his temper with Billie-Jo and allegedly hit her.
She stated: "My mum and dad went out. Billie-Jo went wandering out and sprained her ankle and made quite a fuss about it, and dad got quite angry and hit her or something."
In a separate incident, she said her father punched her in the stomach when she argued with Billie-Jo about a CD.
She added that she did not remember an alleged incident when Jenkins is said to have dragged his youngest daughter, Maya, up two flights of stairs by her ears.
The hearing continues.