Nine-year ordeal ends as jury acquits Sion Jenkins

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Just after midday yesterday, Sion Jenkins stepped out of court seven at the Old Bailey knowing that a jury's failure to reach a verdict meant that the worst of his nine-year ordeal was over.

As he waited for confirmation that he had been acquitted of murder, two women flung themselves at him, showering him with blows, leaving his chin bloodstained. They were relatives of his 13-year-old foster daughter, Billie-Jo, who was bludgeoned to death with a tent peg at the family home in Hastings, East Sussex, in February 1997.

And so a case that sparked widespread fascination and revulsion for nearly a decade drew to a close as it began: in violence, controversy and confusion.

He is, in the eyes of the law, an innocent man. His supporters believe his conviction at the first of three trials to be one of the worst miscarriages of justice in recent times. However for the family of the dead girl, and for Mr Jenkins' former wife, the matter remains far from over.

Many will also be disturbed to learn of evidence given at Mr Jenkins' appeal, but not made public at the time, of accusations that the former teacher had a long history of domestic abuse, and an explosive temper.

Three times a jury has been asked to decide whether Mr Jenkins was a lying, arrogant bully, responsible for an inexplicable act of violence against his young foster daughter. Each time the jurors had been offered an alternative image: a caring father whose life was ruined by flawed forensic evidence, a vindictive wife, and bad luck.

Despite 39 hours of deliberation, this time the jury of six women and six men were unable to agree which version of the story was the correct one.

After the decision, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not seek a further trial. Mr Jenkins was immediately acquitted by the judge. His ordeal appeared to be over.

As he left the Old Bailey with his new wife, Mr Jenkins said: "It has taken more than nine years of struggle and faith for me to be standing here today. It has been a terrible ordeal and I find it difficult to actually take it in.

"Of course, my thoughts today, as always, are with my daughters, Annie, Charlotte, Esther and Maya. I want to assure them of my total love for them.

"Although they are on the other side of the world, not a day has passed without me thinking of them all."

The journey to the steps of the Old Bailey began at the family's home in Lower Park Road in Hastings. There, Mr Jenkins, his wife, Lois, and their four children presented an archetypal image of suburban bliss.

Mr Jenkins had met his first wife, a social worker, while working as a supply teacher in London in 1982. The couple married in December of the same year.

Their first child, Annie, arrived in June 1984, and was followed by three more girls in 1986, 1988 and 1989.

Mr Jenkins had left school with four O-levels and one "Higher", the Scottish equivalent of an A-level. He embarked on a career as a teacher.

In order to win a job as the deputy headmaster at William Parker School in Hastings, Mr Jenkins had fabricated his CV, claiming to have studied at Gordonstoun, the Scottish public school that educated the Prince of Wales. He also claimed to have 10 grade-A O-levels, four A-levels and an upper-second honours degree in English at the University of Kent. He further lied by saying he had a PGCE teaching qualification in English and drama.

By February 1997 - at the time Billie-Jo was murdered - the deputy head was going for the job of headmaster and was worried about his bogus qualifications being uncovered. It was this duplicity that would eventually lead to his prison ordeal.

However, in 1992, the Jenkins' strong family credentials were reinforced by their decision to increase the size of their household by taking in two foster children, Billie-Jo, then eight, and her brother, Daryl, 13.

Daryl left a few months later but Billie-Jo stayed. She had been put up for fostering because her mother was unable to cope when her natural father was sent to jail.

For Billie-Jo, the apparent solidity and respectability of the Jenkins household would have provided reassurance that her future was secure.

However, on 15 February 1997 her young life came to an abrupt end. She was beaten up to 10 times on the head with a heavy metal tent peg in a seemingly random attack, on the patio of the family home.

Three days later Billie-Jo's foster parents held an emotional press conference and spoke about their devastation at the loss of the teenager. But Billie-Jo's foster father became a prime suspect after police discovered he had lied about his qualifications. Within a month he was charged with her murder.

In July 1998 he was sentenced to life after being convicted of murder by a jury at Lewes Crown Court.

The case against Mr Jenkins was founded on evidence of more than 150 microscopic spots of Billie-Jo's blood discovered on his clothing. The motive was never made clear. The prosecution argued that he had lost his temper, struck out, and then drove off on a shopping trip to a DIY store with two of his four natural daughters.

But the convicted man maintained his innocence and, backed by his legal team and his wealthy parents, fought to clear his name.

The legal battle that followed cost an estimated £10m. Mr Jenkins spent six-and-a-half years behind bars for the murder.

Mr Jenkins was released on bail in August 2004 after his conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on the grounds of new scientific evidence. During his release, he married Christina Ferneyhough, 55, who wrote to him in jail in July 2004.

As the first trial came to an inconclusive end last year, the couple moved to Lymington, Hampshire, where they are said to live an "ordinary life".

The former teacher will now be able to enjoy his new life without fear of having to return to prison. But disclosures from three trials and an appeal have left his reputation in tatters.

His former wife, Lois accused him of violence against herself and their five children, including Billie-Jo. Evidence she gave during legal argument at the Court of Appeal hearing - which could not be published until now - provides a disturbing impression of her former husband as a volatile and violent man.

Mrs Jenkins, who has since remarried and moved to Tasmania with her children, told the appeal court: "I first became aware of Sion's temper about three weeks before our marriage. He lost his temper and slapped me around my face.

"I was surprised at how volatile he was and felt frightened. When he lost his temper we never argued, he never shouted, he would just lose it, snap and in a few moments he would be back to normal.

"Sion always doted on Annie [their eldest daughter, then aged 12] and loved her deeply, but I felt he was too heavy handed with her which was a pity.

"As a Christian I felt a controlled smack was better than an outburst and Sion would use a stick or a slipper ... Despite this we were happy and had many enjoyable times as a family."

She continued: "He had a short, sharp temper and I knew when he lost it by facial expression."

She claimed that on one occasion "he hit me around the face hard and my head was spinning with the force of it ... I felt very dizzy and was scared of Sion. I had extreme earache for three to four days and I could not hear out of it and a whistling noise developed. I realised that my ear drum had been perforated."

Notes made by the police of conversations with Mrs Jenkins about the murder revealed that she believed that her husband may have killed Billie-Jo in a fit of temper for goading Annie.

The police notes read: "Lois believes that Sion loved them both but has a theory that if Sion lost it on Saturday it would have been around this. Billie smugly painting, something Annie desperately wanted to do, winding Annie up (confirmed by Annie). Annie hangdog and depressed, washing the Opel car.

"Sion suddenly thinking, what am I doing, why am I allowing this to happen. A gesture from Billie to Annie to rub it in further, as she was prone to do. It was enough to make Sion snap."

The third trial also heard evidence from two of Billie-Jo's friends, Holly Prior and Laura Conway, about Mr Jenkins' alleged violence.

Ms Prior said she saw her friend with scratches and a bruise on her neck at school. "She said Sion Jenkins was stroking Buster, her dog, and Billie-Jo told Sion to stop it. He pinned her up against the door and scratched her face. She said Sion just lost his temper."

Ms Conway claimed that on one day Billie-Jo came into school with blood on her shirt and her mouth. She said: "She got punched in the nose by her dad."

At the first retrial last year, the jury also heard evidence about Mr Jenkins kicking Billie-Jo on a holiday to France six months before her death.

As well as the bad-character evidence, the prosecution also relied in the second retrial upon new forensic evidence. But neither tactic was enough to convince two juries of his guilt or innocence.

The CPS decided to acquit Mr Jenkins because they did not believe that there was either enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against him or that a prosecution was not in the public interest.

Part of the reason not to have a fourth trial is that the majority of two juries were not convinced by the forensic evidence, and that Crown prosecutors would have trouble in getting Lois Jenkins to give evidence for a fifth time.

Only a handful of cases have ever been tried three times and only one is believed to have gone to a fourth trial, when Frank Henworth was charged in 1995 with murdering his flatmate Patrick "Nobby" Clarke and was convicted in July 1996.

Yesterday's acquittal provoked outrage and violence from the dead girl's family.

Two women, who later identified themselves as Billie-Jo's aunts Maggie Coster and Bev Williams, ran up to the defendant and kicked and punched him as he sat with his wife and his legal team outside the court.

Mr Jenkins stood up and tried to shield himself with his arms as the women screamed abuse at him.

Afterwards, Mr Jenkins looked shaken as he was consoled by his wife and supporters who asked: "How can this happen?"

Back in court Billie-Jo's natural father, Bill Jenkins, who has been in court for the duration of the retrial, glared down at the defendant from the public gallery. A female member of his family shouted: "It's not over yet you slag."

Following the hung jury - the judge had said he would accept a 10-2 majority - Nicholas Hilliard, acting for the prosecution, said no further retrial would be sought. He said: "In the course of two lengthy trials, neither jury has been able to reach a verdict and we can't say they would be more likely than not to do so in a future trial.

"Having given very careful consideration to the case, now is the time to offer no further evidence."

Mr Justice Clarke recorded a formal not guilty verdict.

The Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex, Geoff Williams, said outside court that it was "particularly unfortunate" that two juries had failed to reach a verdict.

"The crime remains unresolved. We appeal again for anyone with information at this late stage to come forward," he said.

As soon as the first retrial was ordered, Sussex Police set up a new inquiry, codenamed Operation Cathedral, to reinvestigate the case.

For those who believe Mr Jenkins' innocence, there remains one question: if he did not kill Billie-Jo, then who did? There is only one other suspect, a mentally ill man who for legal reasons is named Mr B. He was seen acting strangely in a park close to the Jenkins' home at the time of the murder.

Further suspicious behaviour was that a plastic binbag was found stuffed deep inside one of Billie-Jo's nostrils. When Mr B was arrested two days after the murder, officers saw him holding part of a plastic bag up to his nose as he lay on the bench in the police cell in a "foetal position". They later found two more pieces of plastic in his underpants.

Brian Kent, who runs a guesthouse on the road where the Jenkins family lived, told the Old Bailey that Mr B rang his doorbell on the day of the murder. He said: "We had a rather confused conversation and it was obvious that he had mental health problems."

Suggesting he might find accommodation in the centre of the town, Mr Kent pointed the man in the direction of the Jenkins' home.

Sussex Police re-interviewed witnesses that saw Mr B in the park on the day of the murder. All but one place him at least 15 minutes away from the scene at the time of the attack.

He was questioned by Sussex detectives following the decision to have a retrial. However, the police said he had an alibi and their forensic testshad eliminated him as a suspect.

Sussex Police promised yesterday not to close the case, although they do not have any new leads.

Assistant Chief Constable Geoff Williams said: "We should perhaps pause and remember what this case is about. It's about Billie-Jo - a bright, lively 13-year-old girl with everything to live for who was brutally murdered on the patio of her foster parents' home, a place where she ought to have been safe."

As Mr Jenkins left the Old Bailey to attempt to rebuild his life with his new wife, the legal process had finally come to an end.

However, for the dead girl's family and, of course, for the former teacher himself, a true ending can only remain a distant goal.

'See if you can find a pulse': the emergency call

Sion Jenkins: Look I called for an ambulance, I need paramedics.

Operator: Right. What's the address?

SJ: 48 Lower Park road. I have got to have someone now, it's serious.

O: Oh. is this your daughter?

SJ: It is my daughter.

O: Yes. OK, now the ambulance is on its way. Is she breathing all right?

SJ: No.

O: She is not breathing?

SJ: Well I can't see.

O: Right, OK, where is the blood coming from? A cut? Or is it coming from her mouth?

SJ: Head. Head, mouth.

O: It is coming from her mouth?

SJ: Mouth.

O: Right. OK. You need to make sure that it is not actually blocking her mouth, and it is actually leaving her mouth OK, so that she does not choke on it. All right now, is that telephone right next to her?

SJ: Say that again.

O: Is the telephone right next to your child?

SJ: No it isn't... I'm at the other end of the house.

O: Oh right... have you put her on her side?

SJ: Yes.

O: Right, you need to make sure that the blood is actually leaving her mouth. Have you tried to find a pulse in the neck?

SJ: No.

O: How far away is the patient?

SJ: The other end of the house.

O: Is there someone there that can help you?

SJ: Yes, a next-door neighbour has just come round.

O: Right. Can one of you go and see? I need you to put two fingers next to her adam's apple in her neck. See if you can find me a pulse and run back and tell me.

SJ: OK.

The disputed evidence

The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction in 2004 because of evidence about tiny droplets of Billie-Jo's blood found on Sion Jenkins' clothing. The evidence showed that Billie-Jo's upper airway was blocked and pressure in her lungs built up behind the blockage. meaning blood could have been exhaled when the blockage cleared as her body was moved.

At the first retrial, the prosecution produced evidence which in turn challenged the defence's basis for a retrial.

Clothing was sent for further analysis and experts found three of the specks on Mr Jenkins' trousers and four on Billie-Jo's leggings contained particles of her flesh. Prosecutors said they confirmed he was spattered with blood when he bludgeoned her - not as he tried to assist the dying teenager, as the defence claimed.

But further experts called by the defence disputed the prosecution's findings.

Long search for justice

15 February 1997: 13-year-old Billie-Jo Jenkins discovered dead on the patio at her home in Hastings, East Sussex.

18 February 1997: Her foster parents Sion and Lois Jenkins speak at a press conference about their devastation at the murder and appeal to the public for information.

4 March 1997: Jenkins is arrested, interviewed and released on police bail.

14 March 1997: Jenkins is charged with murder.

July 1998: Jenkins is convicted at Lewes Crown Court of battering Billie-Jo to death with an 18-inch metal tent spike.

21 December 1999: His first appeal fails and Jenkins is refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

12 May 2003: Jenkins is given leave to appeal again.

30 June 2004: Second appeal begins.

16 July 2004: Jenkins' conviction is quashed and a retrial is ordered.

2 August 2004: He is given conditional bail.

February 2005: Jenkins marries art dealer Christina Ferneyhough while on bail awaiting his new trial.

April 2005: Jenkins' retrial opens at Old Bailey.

July 2005: Jury fails to agree verdict.

31 October 2005: Second retrial begins.

9 February 2006: Second retrial ends with no verdict and formal acquittal.

Dramatis personae

Sion Jenkins

The 48-year-old has spent nine years insisting he is innocent of murder. The son of a policeman, he left school with a handful of low grade O-levels but exaggerated his qualifications to rise to deputy headmaster. He spent six and a half years in jail for murder. After he walked free yesterday, he spoke of his desire to be reunited with his four daughters.

Billie-Jo Jenkins

She was fostered by the Jenkins family at the age of eight after her father was jailed and her mother was unable to cope. She seemed happy with her foster parents but two schoolfriends said she told them that Sion hit and scratched her several times. They said she was worried her foster parents would lose their jobs if she made a complaint.

Lois Jenkins

A social worker, she married Sion in 1982, but divorced him after the first trial and moved with their four biological daughters to Australia, where she has a new partner. The 43-year-old told the trial that Mr Jenkins hit her and subjected the children to severe discipline. She also told detectives that Billie-Jo had "flirted" with her husband.

Christina Jenkins

Became the second Mrs Jenkins in February last year, months before the first retrial. The 55-year-old wrote to Sion when he was in jail and they met in October 2004. She inherited a considerable sum from her parents and ran a successful antiques business with her former husband. The couple now lead an "ordinary" life in Lymington, Hampshire.

Lottie Jenkins

Just 10 years old when she returned from a shopping trip with her father to find her foster sister murdered. Asserted that a garden gate was open lending credence to the defence case - the prosecution argued she had been coached by her father. Two years ago, gave evidence for her father's side in his appeal, while her mother appeared for the prosecution.

Bill Jenkins

Billie-Jo's real father, now 54, had agreed to her being put in care but kept in touch with his daughter and had been hoping to win back custody weeks before she died. He now lives in Canning Town, east London, with a new partner, and is close to his other daughter Margaret, now 16, who is Billie-Jo's half sister. Said of Sion: "I didn't like him at all."

Debbie Jenkins

Claimed she put her daughter Billie-Jo and two other children in care because of her husband's violence. Walked out of Billie-Jo's funeral after Lois Jenkins arrived. Lives in east London with a new partner. She carries in her handbag a lock of Billie-Jo's hair, photos and her ballet shoes. Feels guilty about putting Billie-Jo into care, saying she "sent her to her death".

David Jenkins

Sion's father has stuck by him from the time he was charged, putting up a large bail sum which meant he was not on remand in the run-up to the first trial. He also provided £250,000 surety for Sion to remain on bail since the retrials were ordered. A police constable who later joined the Michelin tyre firm, Mr Jenkins and his wife live in Aberystwyth.