Jefferies recalls the vilification – and then the vindication

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The Independent Online

For a brief period during the hunt for Joanna Yeates's killer, a number of British newspapers believed they had found the culprit.

Lurid details about an "eccentric" former school teacher's personal life were plastered across the front pages of national newspapers, all drawing their readers to reach the seemingly inevitable conclusion that one of Miss Yeates's neighbours – landlord Christopher Jefferies – had committed the murder.

Speaking yesterday after the real killer, Vincent Tabak, was sent to prison, Mr Jefferies described his wrongful arrest and public vilification as "the most difficult time of my life".

"I think I was probably just numb at the time with the shock of it all. I was able to think of nothing except what was going to happen next," he told ITV News. "I knew that I was innocent, but nevertheless I was required to go through this protracted series of interviews."

Mr Jefferies was arrested shortly after 7am on 30 December, when police arrived at his door and said: "It's the police, Mr Jefferies. We need your help."

He was questioned for three days and then released on police bail – an indication that he remained under suspicion. In the meantime, a number of newspapers began printing inaccurate and defamatory details about his life.

One Daily Mirror front page carried the headline, "Jo suspect is peeping Tom", beneath a photograph of Mr Jefferies. The Sun's front page headline was, "Obsessed by death", printed next to a photograph of Mr Jefferies, and below the words, "Jo suspect 'scared kids'".

Commenting yesterday on his portrayal in the media, Mr Jefferies said: "This was an entirely foreign personality that was being foisted on me. Reading those [stories] and reading them in such a concentrated and pointed form for the first time was very, very upsetting indeed."

Mr Jefferies also questioned the manner in which the police investigation was conducted. "Whether they were making other inquiries at the same time or not, I don't know. But a lot of time and attention was taken up with me," he said. "It's clear the focus should have been elsewhere."

Since his ordeal, the landlord has had his flowing white hair trimmed and dyed brown.

His "vilification" by the press so concerned Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC that he brought contempt of court proceedings against the publishers of the Daily Mirror and The Sun.

The High Court ruled that the articles in the two tabloids created "substantial risks to the course of justice", fining the former £50,000 and the latter £18,000.