Foster father wins retrial over Billie-Jo murder

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The Independent Online

Sion Jenkins is to face trial a second time on a charge of murdering his teenage foster daughter Billie-Jo more than seven years ago.

Sion Jenkins is to face trial a second time on a charge of murdering his teenage foster daughter Billie-Jo more than seven years ago.

Three Court of Appeal judges today quashed his original 1998 conviction as "unsafe", but directed that a new jury must now decide whether he was the killer.

Jenkins, sitting in the dock, showed no emotion as the judges announced their decision.

The ruling means that, in the eyes of the law, 46-year-old Jenkins is again "innocent until proved guilty".

Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Curtis and Mr Justice Wakerley ruled that his conviction was "unsafe" in the light of fresh scientific evidence.

Lord Justice Rose said it was in the public interest for the case to be heard by a new jury.

The retrial order came after a nine-day appeal hearing in which the judges heard a mass of fresh evidence and legal argument.

Jenkins, a former deputy headteacher, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court in June 1998 of battering his 13-year-old foster daughter to death with an 18-inch metal tent spike as she was painting a patio door at their home in Hastings, East Sussex, on February 15, 1997.

Lord Justice Rose said: "The offence of murder here alleged is of the gravest and in our judgment the public interest requires that a jury should decide the matter on the basis of all the evidence now available to the extent that it is called at retrial by the prosecution or defence."

It was alleged at Jenkins's trial that, during a three-minute visit to the family house, the deputy headteacher had an argument with Billie-Jo, lost his temper, hit her over the head up to 10 times and then drove off on a "spurious" shopping trip to a DIY store with two of his four natural daughters, Lottie and Annie.

On his return home, it was claimed, he pretended to discover the dead girl's body on the patio.

The case against Jenkins was founded on evidence of more than 150 microscopic spots of Billie-Jo's blood discovered on his clothing.

According to the prosecution, they were "impact spatter" caused as Jenkins beat the girl to death.

Jenkins claims the invisible droplets were breathed-out blood forced from Billie-Jo's lungs as he leaned over her and moved her body in an attempt to help her.

Lord Justice Rose said the court had heard fresh scientific evidence which undermined the opinion of experts at the trial and the earlier appeal hearing that the blood droplets could not have been caused by exhalation.

The fresh evidence showed that, at some time after the beginning of the attack, Billie-Jo's upper airway was blocked and that pressure in her lungs built up behind the blockage.

This meant that blood droplets could have been exhaled "passively" when her body was moved by her foster father.

If the original trial jury had had the opportunity to hear this evidence, their verdict might have been different.

It would now be for a new jury to assess the conclusions to be drawn from the whole of the evidence in the case, the judge said.