Jenkins wins retrial over murder of foster daughter

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The Independent Online

Sion Jenkins will stand trial again for the murder of his foster daughter after the Court of Appeal yesterday quashed his conviction. New scientific evidence convinced the appeal judges in London that the headteacher's conviction in 1998 for the killing of Billie-Jo was unsafe.

Sion Jenkins will stand trial again for the murder of his foster daughter after the Court of Appeal yesterday quashed his conviction. New scientific evidence convinced the appeal judges in London that the headteacher's conviction in 1998 for the killing of Billie-Jo was unsafe.

Mr Jenkins showed no emotion as he was told he was no longer considered guilty of one of the most notorious killings of the 1990s. The new trial is expected at the Old Bailey within a year. Mr Jenkins' solicitor, Neil O'May, said after the ruling: "He knows this is the first step to clear his name and he knows a jury will deliver the right verdict: that he did not kill Billie-Jo."

A decision has yet to be made on whether 46-year-old Mr Jenkins will be given bail, or if he has to remain in prison until the retrial. He has already served six years after being convicted of battering 13-year-old Billie-Jo to death with a metal tent peg at their home in Hastings, East Sussex, in February, 1997.

The case pitted Mr Jenkins against his wife Lois, 43, who has since divorced him and who gave evidence for the Crown against her former husband during his appeal hearing.

Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Curtis and Mr Justice Wakerley, quashed the conviction on the basis of new forensic science evidence. This was disclosed by Mr Jenkins' defence only four days before the appeal began, and provided for the first time a different explanation of how tiny droplets of Billie-Jo's blood could have been sprayed on his trousers and jacket. The splatter on Mr Jenkins was the "crux of the case" against him, Lord Justice Rose said in his judgment.

This was the second appeal hearing for Mr Jenkins, and follows an investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the body that examines alleged miscarriages of justice.

At Mr Jenkins' trial at Lewes Crown Court, the jury was told that, during a three-minute visit to the family house, he had an argument with Billie-Jo, and hit her over the head up to 10 times. He is then said to have driven off with two of his four natural daughters, Lottie and Annie, who were aged 10 and 12 at the time.

The case against him was founded on evidence of more than 150 microscopic spots of Billie-Jo's blood on his clothing. The prosecution said they were "impact spatter" caused as Mr Jenkins beat the girl to death. Mr Jenkins' defence countered at his appeal that droplets of blood were forced out of Billie-Jo's lungs as he moved her body in an attempt to help her.

The appeal judges said this was a credible theory because new scientific evidence showed that at some time after the attack, Billie-Jo's upper airway was blocked and that pressure in her lungs built up behind the blockage. The evidence emerged after a pathologist examined tiny sections of the dead girl's lungs that had been kept on slides. The judge said that if the original trial jury had had the opportunity to hear this evidence, the verdict might have been different.

The new murder trial is likely to centre on the interpretation of this fresh material. Earlier, the judges dismissed a claim made in the appeal hearing that Mr Jenkins was deprived of the chance to call Lottie and Annie as alibi witnesses because they had turned hostile towards him under the influence of their mother, who now lives in Tasmania with their four daughters and her new partner.

The judges cleared Mrs Jenkins of the allegation that the girls had been "got at" by her to stop them giving evidence in support of their father. The former Mrs Jenkins and her daughters may refuse to give evidence at the new trial, in which case the defence and prosecution will rely on video testimonies already made.

A third plank of the appeal, that a mentally ill man, who was close to the murder scene at the time of the crime, could have been responsible, was also rejected by the judges. They concluded there was no evidence that the man killed Billie-Jo.

Outside court, Chief Superintendent Jeremy Paine, from Sussex Police, said: "The court has made its decision and we will get ready for a retrial."