Meredith Kercher murder: The verdict has changed. The evidence has not

Sensational reporting of facts that are intrinsically unsensational is at the root of the mess that Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Sollecito find themselves in

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Yes, folks, we journalists are at it again: putting two and two together to make something a lot more interesting than four.

Today’s Mail Online headline was “Raffaele Sollecito is caught by Italian police ‘trying to flee the country with his girlfriend’.” Sky News had the racier “Kercher Killer Sollecito Held Near Border”. The implication of both was that Sollecito, found guilty of Meredith Kercher’s murder for a second time, was desperately (and foolishly) trying to run away.

In fact he was in a hotel well inside Italy, near his girlfriend’s home, having checked in under his own name. The police did not need to “apprehend” him, as Sky News put it, with the suggestion of handcuffs. He merely went with them to surrender his passport, as the court had ordered.

In this way do we smear. Sensational reporting of facts that are intrinsically unsensational is at the root of the mess that Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Sollecito find themselves in. This West Coast hippy girl and her new Italian lover kissed and canoodled outside the flat where Meredith Kercher was murdered. That was inadvisable with cameras clicking, but was it suspicious? Was it the act of a killer that she did the splits in the Perugia police station, or just that of a wacky young woman relieving her tension? Was it the act of two killers that they themselves called the police, that awful morning in November 2007, and waited for them to break down the door to Meredith’s room?

After Thursday night’s verdict the ugly fact for all concerned, including the Kercher family, is that now there really is no way to find out what happened in Meredith’s room that night. Rome’s Court of Cassation overturned the appeal court’s acquittal, not on a re-examination of the evidence but because they accused that court of doing a sloppy job. Whether or not that was fair, the latest bench had even less to go on than the earlier trials, because the samples of DNA on the knife which prosecutors claimed was the murder weapon, and on the clasp of Meredith’s bra, were so small that they could not be re-tested. As for motive, the scenario we all got excited about – that a sex game or black Masonic ritual went bloodily wrong – was rightly discarded by the new prosecutor as there was no evidence at all that it happened.

The baseless smears with which the first prosecution filled the Italian media, eagerly re-cycled in the British tabloids, became what everyone “knows”. Meanwhile Italian justice chases its tail, and instead of establishing the truth, disappears up the fundament of process.

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