Wife 'distorted truth' over Billie-Jo murder

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The wife of Sion Jenkins, the schoolteacher convicted of murdering his foster daughter, Billie-Jo, lied about crucial evidence that could have helped clear her husband, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

The wife of Sion Jenkins, the schoolteacher convicted of murdering his foster daughter, Billie-Jo, lied about crucial evidence that could have helped clear her husband, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

Lois Jenkins was accused of "distorting the truth" and attempting to turn Jenkins' daughters, Lottie and Annie, against their father because she was convinced that he was a killer, it was claimed on the opening day of an appeal against the conviction.

Jenkins, 46, was jailed for life at Lewes Crown Court for bludgeoning 13-year-old Billie-Jo to death with an 18-inch metal tent spike as she painted a patio door at their home in Hastings, East Sussex, in February 1997.

But fresh evidence gathered since Jenkins was convicted would prove "that Sion Jenkins has not only suffered the tragic loss of a child through murder but has also been wrongly convicted of that murder", his counsel, Clare Montgomery QC, told three appeal judges.

Among the main pieces of evidence are statements from two of Jenkins' four natural daughters, Lottie and Annie, who were with him when he discovered the body, which show that their father did not have time to commit the murder, it was claimed in court.

But the girls were never called to give evidence because their mother lied to the police, claiming one daughter believed her father was the killer and that both had said he argued with Billie-Jo on the day of murder, the court was told.

Lottie, now 18, has travelled to Britain from her new home in Tasmania to give evidence in the Court of Appeal, and her sister, 20, has made a statement in a video recording seen by the judges. Their mother, Lois, who divorced Jenkins soon after his conviction and moved to Australia with a new partner, is to give evidence for the Crown in its opposition to his fresh appeal.

Ms Montgomery recalled what she described as the "improbable" prosecution case. It was alleged that, during a three-minute visit to the family home on the afternoon of 15 February 1997, Jenkins flew into a rage with Billie-Jo. Then, it was claimed, he battered her more than 10 times with a tent peg and pushed part of a plastic bag into her nose before leaving with Lottie and Annie on a shopping trip.

The far more likely explanation was that Billie-Jo was killed by an intruder who entered through the side gate, it was claimed. Ms Montgomery said the evidence from the two girls made it almost impossible for their father to have been the murderer. On their accounts, Billie-Jo was alive when they left the house after the brief visit and their father came out almost immediately afterwards. He would have had no time to kill her.

Lois Jenkins had told police of conversations she had with the two girls in the months following the murder in which they allegedly made comments conflicting with their original accounts. Among the most damaging assertions in the police reports of the conversations were that Jenkins and Billie-Jo had an argument on the day of the murder and Lottie "knew" that her father had killed Billie-Jo but believed he had not done it deliberately.

Ms Montgomery said interviews with the girls in 2002 showed that the most significant of the statements attributed to them were either not made at all or not made in the terms in which they were reported.

She argued that Lois Jenkins had been faced with "a terrible dilemma" when 10 days after the killing she was convinced by the police that her husband was responsible. Ms Montgomery said: "So you have a mother who believes her husband, the father of her children, has killed one of them. She is terrified about him returning home and she understands that the children's evidence nevertheless might lead to her murderous and dangerous husband being released and being sent back into the family. Any mother faced with that prospect would try and unpick the children's stories."

Another key aspect of the prosecution was evidence from forensic scientists who said that 150 microscopic spots of blood found on Jenkins's clothes could only have been produced during a frenzied attack on Billie-Jo.

Ms Montgomery said new evidence would show that the blood spots were more likely to have been caused by blood exhaled from the girl's airways as he leant across her body.

The hearing continues.