Inconvenient truths still linger…

15 February 2015 is the eighteenth anniversary of an unsolved murder.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in 1997 Billie-Jo Jenkins, aged thirteen, was brutally killed. Her killer has never been found. Her foster father was wrongly convicted of her murder. The conviction was overturned at a second appeal and he was acquitted in 2006. Since then there has been no attempt to re-open the investigation.

Eighteen years have passed and much has changed in the world.

Public scepticism has grown and we are less credulous. A series of revelations and a culture of growing openness has ensured that there we now have fewer illusions about the integrity of public institutions and those who represent them. Who can be trusted?

What might once have seemed unthinkable now seems commonplace, and there is ample evidence in the public domain that rotten apples can be found in all sorts of barrels.

Eighteen years on things have changed in Sussex Police too. Their website now has a whole section listing policies from Anti Social Behaviour to Witness Intimidation and Protection. Today those policies reflect the principles, rules and guidelines that determine how the force runs and makes decisions on a day to day basis.

Commenting as recently as August 2014 on their practice in the late 1990s Sussex police pointed out that “current investigative practices are vastly different”.

The Force has completely updated and reorganised the way it investigates both major crime and critical incidents ... Significant changes to our investigative practices include a dedicated Major Crime Team, accredited senior investigating officers and trained family liaison officers. These arrangements were closely examined and approved by HM Inspectors of Constabulary.

ITV news 14 August 2014

If only those measures had been in place when Billie-Jo was murdered things might have been different.

The individuals with vested interests may hope that after eighteen years no-one will still be asking “Who killed Billie-Jo?”
But the insistent voice of reason still asks that question and the truth, however inconvenient, still waits to be told.

No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion (Harumi Murakami)

Sussex police should have the moral courage to own its past. That at least would offer some assurance that things today really are better. Countless people have suffered lasting damage from events during that time, whether directly or peripherally. These are just a few of the cases that bear witness to the errors of those years, and these are only the ones that hit the headlines:

  • 1993 Sheila Bowler
  • 1996 Richard Watson
  • 1997 Billie-Jo Jenkins
  • 1998 James Ashley
  • 1999 Jay Abatan

There is evidence of too much pain , too much damage , too much responsibility for Sussex Police simply to shrug off the past like a discarded snakeskin. There is an undeniable relationship between truth and reconciliation. The story of Billie-Jo Jenkins cannot have a happy ending, but it should have a truthful one.

As a society we are finally learning that it is less damaging to admit mistakes than to pretend that they never happened. Nothing enhances justice more than the rigorous pursuit of error.

The Guardian: Justice on Trial