1997: a bad year for justice in Sussex

15 February: Billie-Jo Jenkins was murdered in Hastings.

14 March: Siôn Jenkins was charged with that murder.

The arrest satisfied a national clamour for a result, and took the pressure off Sussex police. The case launched the celebrity career of Jeremy Paine, whose main claim to fame was to become that he had solved the Jenkins murder.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Sussex other cases were unfolding.

  • Sheila Bowler was fighting her conviction for a murder she did not commit. On 26 February her case was referred to the Appeal Court for a second time. In July 1997 Sheila Bowler’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
  • Linda Watson and her step-daughter had been wrongly charged with murder by Sussex police who, despite the absence of evidence, were pushing desperately ahead with trying to construct a case against the two women.

Two high-profile cases were collapsing. The force’s reputation was very publicly at stake.

For most of 1997 and early 1998 Sussex police were simultaneously investigating the Watson case and the Jenkins case, using common systems and methods. In both cases, under the glare of media publicity, the quest for a successful prosecution was a priority.

The Watson case collapsed in June 1998, in the same week that Siôn Jenkins trial came to court.

In July 1998 Paul Whitehouse, in his report to the Sussex Police Authority, explicitly linked the Watson case with the Jenkins case, stressing “that both were investigated with the same high degree of integrity and professionalism”

This was reported across the county in PATROL, the force’s newsheet.

Something was deeply wrong in Sussex policing at that time. A Det. Supt Foster of Sussex police said in 1993 that in murder cases the pressure is on the police and they will ‘do everything they have to’ to secure a conviction : a disturbing statement when viewed in the light of these cases, in which the accused have fought, and some are still fighting, to clear their names.