Two years on: the facts reviewed

With murder, as with so much else, timing is of the essence. One case may become a national talking-point; another, with equally disturbing features, is ignored altogether. It often depends on the news priorities at the time. If a murderer, wanting maximum publicity for his evil deeds, hired his own PR agent, he would be advised to commit murder on a Saturday afternoon.

The police need to spend the rest of the day securing the crime scene and breaking the terrible news to relatives. News of the crime can then be given to the media early on Sunday morning, thus giving the press a ready-made solution to what editors acknowledge to be their weekly quandary: what do we put in the papers on a Monday morning when nothing has happened on Sunday?

So news of the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins, which occurred at about 3.30pm on Saturday 15 February 1997, duly made the front pages of almost all national newspapers the following Monday morning. But it wasn’t just the accident of timing that caused the crime to lodge so firmly in the public consciousness. There were other features: the unusual savagery of the crime (the police surgeon called to the scene said that in the 26 years of his career it was the most brutal murder he had ever attended); and the haunting photograph of the attractive 13-year-old schoolgirl whose life had been so cruelly cut short.

Finally there was the identity of the man ultimately convicted of her murder: her foster father, Siôn Jenkins, then 39, and headteacher-designate of William Parker Boys’ School in Hastings.

Siôn Jenkins, the elder of two boys whose father had made a successful career in management, was 23 and a teacher at Stepney Green boys’ school when he met 19-year-old Lois Ball in London in the spring of 1981; he was also a keen sculptor and had a studio in Wapping. Lois was a student nurse at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. She was from Poole, Dorset, the oldest of four children whose family had been part of the Exclusive Brethren, a strict Christian sect. In a statement she later gave to police, Lois said “we had a fast, fun-loving relationship and had an exciting time together. We attended lots of parties and social events.”

They married in December 1982, and their first child, Annie, was born in June 1984. At this point Lois gave up nursing and became a registered childminder. Their second child, Lottie, was born in March 1986, and it was then that Siôn and Lois became involved with the Baptist Church. After Jenkins was promoted, the family moved to Waltham Forest, where Esther was born in February 1988 and Maya, in November 1989. After Maya’s birth, Lois began working as a social worker with special needs children.

In 1992 the couple answered a newspaper advertisement looking for foster parents. One of the children concerned, Billie-Jo (whose surname, coincidentally, was also Jenkins) was already a schoolfriend of Annie’s, although she was just over a year older. She was not having an easy time in care; on one occasion, her father snatched her, and the police found them at 11.00 that night in a pub in Canning Town. Billie-Jo was placed with the Jenkins family.

When, later that year, Jenkins was offered the post of deputy head at William Parker, Billie-Jo went with them to Hastings. The move — to a comfortable family home, looking out on to Alexandra Park, and with overgrown woodland behind — was not without its difficulties for Billie-Jo, but Lois remarked that, overall, Billie-Jo had coped with the change ‘very well’. Indeed, only days before the murder, Lois and Siôn had obtained a residence order which gave them parental responsibility for Billie-Jo (effectively, a halfway stage between fostering and adopting).

Saturday 15 February was the first bright Saturday of the year. Coming at the end of a damp and dismal half-term week, it was the kind of day that lifts everyone’s spirits. Siôn and Lois had recently opened bank accounts for Billie-Jo, Annie and Lottie, and all three wanted the opportunity to earn extra pocket money. Billie-Jo and Annie argued about who would paint the patio doors, but agreed that Billie-Jo would make a start while Annie cleaned out the utility room and washed the Opel (there were three family cars: a Citreon, an Opel and, Siôn’s pride and joy, a white MG Roadster). Then, at about 4.00pm, Annie would take over the painting, allowing Billie-Jo to go into town to buy the Reebok trainers she wanted.

The jobs were going slowly — Billie-Jo was filming the dog with a camcorder — but after lunch she and Annie settled down to their tasks. Meanwhile, Lottie went to a clarinet class, and Lois took the two younger children shopping, and then walking on the beach.

Soon it was time for Siôn Jenkins to pick up Lottie from her class. Did the others want to come? Jenkins had taken out the MG and, for the first time since the previous summer, rolled back the roof. Billie-Jo said she’d carry on painting, but Annie decided to go. They picked Lottie up and gave a friend of hers a lift home from the class. Lottie’s friend had lately moved house, and could not at first remember her way home; when they finally dropped her off, her mother recalled, it was between 3.15 and 3.20pm; she had been checking the clock because they were so late.

Jenkins, Annie and Lottie then went home but almost at once the three of them went out again; Jenkins had remembered they needed white spirit. As he considered the road too dangerous to do a three-point turn, he drove off in the wrong (that is, longer) direction and went round the park. Then, while he was driving, he decided it was too late for Annie to start painting and started to head back home. Annie, though, looked downcast, so he changed his mind again and they went round the park once more. When finally they reached Do-It-All, Jenkins realised that he hadn’t taken any money with him, so he drove home again.

When they got back to the house, Jenkins opened the door and Annie and Lottie raced in ahead of him. He was, he says, then aware that Lottie had stopped stock-still. “Dad”, she screamed, “Billie’s hurt”. She was lying in a pool of blood on the patio, a bloodstained metal tent peg by her head.

The first telephone call to the emergency services was logged at 3.38. Records showed that at 3.45 Jenkins then rang a neighbour, Denise Franklin, for assistance, before making a second 999 call. While he was making this call, the children saw the ambulance go past the house and stop down the road, so Jenkins ran after it. The resuscitation attempts of the ambulance crew were, however, in vain and Billie-Jo was pronounced dead at 4.50.

The next day, both Annie and Lottie gave video interviews to police. Amongst other things, Annie said that she had spoken to Billie-Jo as they were all leaving to go to Do-It-All, and Lottie firmly recalled that the gate to the side-passage of the house was closed when they left, but open when they returned. There was a coal-bunker at the end of this side-passage, and Annie had put three tent-pegs on top of it when clearing out the utility room. For an intruder entering the back of the house via the side-passage, these would have been the nearest weapons to hand.

One possible intruder was identified immediately. Many witnesses reported seeing a man behaving strangely in Alexandra Park, near the Jenkins home, at times between 3.00 and 4.00 that afternoon. The man had a long history of mental illness. Indeed, one of the witnesses was a psychiatric nurse who had treated him. One family had an earlier occasion reported his violent behaviour and threats towards [their daughter] to the police. The social services had planned to section him the day before the murder, but had been unable to find him. After the murder the police went to see him, but he was not at home. On Wednesday 19 February, they went to see his parents. One of the officers recorded that the father regrets his son may have been responsible.

After the murder, the Jenkins’ house became a crime-scene and the family went to stay with friends. The police took all articles of clothing that Siôn, Annie and Lottie had been wearing to be tested for, as the family were told, elimination purposes.

On Friday 21 February, Adrian Wain, a forensic scientist at the Lambeth laboratory in London, told Sussex police that he had discovered spots of blood, only visible under a microscope, on Siôn Jenkins’ clothing. More significantly, he added that these spots are typical of those I would expect to find following an impact on to a surface wet with blood. The size of the spots also indicates that the force of the impact was considerable and that the wearer was close to it.

Early on Monday 24 February, Jenkins was arrested. He was given no chance to shave or even to say goodbye. He was questioned over two days, before being released on police bail the following evening. He was, he says, told that if he tried to return to his family, his children would be taken into care.

Ten days earlier, Jenkins had been a respected professional man. Now, he was an outcast. He had no money, and didn’t know where to go or what to do. His solicitor took him to stay overnight at a friend’s house; from there he went to stay with his parents in Aberystwyth.

On 13 March he returned to Hastings and was re-arrested. He again asserted his complete innocence, but by now the police had discovered that he had provided a fallacious c.v. when originally applying to William Parker in 1992. He had said he was a pupil at Gordonstoun. He had not. He also said he had a degree from the University of Kent, which was not true, either. So Jenkins was charged not just with murder, but also with obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.

His legal team arranged bail, a condition of which was that he had to leave the area. And so Jenkins returned to his parents in Aberystwyth. He took up sculpture again, attended church regularly, and endured the lengthy 15-month wait until the case went to trial. By now, Lois had become hostile to him, and he was allowed to see their children only in sessions monitored by video cameras and supervised by social services.

The trial eventually began at Lewes Crown Court on 3 June 1998. The prosecution case was that, on returning home from Lottie’s clarinet lesson, Jenkins had lost his temper and battered Billie-Jo to death. The visit to Do-It-All was, the Crown argued, a ploy Jenkins had thought up to buy himself time in which a notional intruder might have come to the house. As evidence of this, they pointed to Jenkins’s circuitous route to the store, the fact that he had taken no money with him, and the added fact that in any case he didn’t need white spirit because there was half-a-bottle at the back of a store cupboard.

The defence argued that this analysis ignored how disorganised family life routinely is. Aren’t half-bottles of white spirit left at the back of cupboards in most houses? And don’t people nevertheless go out to buy a fresh bottle?

Jenkins’ assertion that he had thought twice about going, and had indeed turned back, had been confirmed by Annie in her video interview. She said that he had wanted to go back, but that she’d persuaded him to continue; so, had it not been for her, Jenkins wouldn’t have bought himself any time at all.

The Crown contended, however, that Jenkins’ attitude and conduct, both when he found Billie-Jo and when he was being questioned, were highly incriminating. Jenkins had not ministered first-aid or attended properly to his dying daughter. In fact, he had seemed rather detached and, when the ambulance crew arrived, had calmly gone to sit in his MG.

Jenkins’ efforts may indeed not have been those of a professional first-aider, but which of us could guarantee to act with the requisite calm in such circumstances? There was another factor: his two other children. He tried, he says, to prevent Annie and Lottie witnessing the full horror of what had happened to Billie-Jo, and put them in another room; so he was constantly rushing between the two hysterical children and the dying Billie-Jo.

At this moment of tragedy, there were two diversionary incidents. Just as Jenkins rushed to dial 999, the phone started ringing. Precious time was lost in picking the phone and slamming it down. Then, as Jenkins was waiting for the ambulance, a colleague arrived to deliver some paperwork. Jenkins did not invite him in.

Under cross-examination, Jenkins agreed that he indeed sit in the MG, but said he almost immediately wondered what he was doing and got out again. An expert in psychiatric disorientation following accidents gave evidence for the defence that Jenkins’ behaviour was entirely understandable for someone in a state of shock.

The crux of the prosecution case, however, was the forensic science evidence, those almost invisible spots of Billie-Jo’s blood found on Jenkins’ clothing. There were, crucially, 48 spots in the chest area of the blue fleece jacket Jenkins had been wearing, 21 on his left sleeve and three on his right sleeve. The Crown argued, in line with Adrian Wain’s early conclusions, that the only explanation for these spots was that Jenkins himself was the murderer.

Defence experts vigorously disputed this and insisted that the explanation of the blood spattering was that Billie-Jo had expired the blood on to Jenkins’ clothing in a fine mist when he attended to her as she lay dying.

However, the prosecution responded by asserting that the dying Billie-Jo would not have been capable of breathing out a spray of blood and that, even if this had happened, the blood-spray would not have reached the height at which the spattering occurred on Jenkins’ clothing.

Yet the defence pointed out that it would have been extraordinary, in a crime this brutal, for the assailant to have escaped with only invisible bloodstaining. There was a great deal of blood at the scene — over the dining-room floor, the patio, the wall and the surrounding trellis — so why was there so little on Jenkins himself?

Jenkins was right-handed, yet there were only three blood specks on his right sleeve. Every time that prosecution scientists attempted to replicate the attack (using a pig’s head covered in blood), they ended up with significant bloodstaining on the striking arm of the assailant.

Further, forensic scientists know that in attacks of this kind there are usually tell-tale drip-down blood spots on the back of the murderer’s clothing, caused as the killer has raised the weapon again and again. There were none on Jenkins’ clothing. Defence scientists also suggested that given the savagery of the attack, there would have been fragments of brain and body tissue on his clothing.

The blood on the clothing was the kernel of the case. The submissions concerning it were, however, obscured at trial by technical disputes between defence and prosecution experts about matters such as residual lung capacity and volume and speed of expiration. Indeed, the appeal court subsequently acknowledged that the terms minute volume’ and peak flow’ (concerning breathing capacity) had become muddled. This was a confuion between experts which had, the appeal court noted, misled the judge and may have misled the jury.

The jurors may have been left with the impression that only a very fit girl, and certainly not a dying girl, could have raised the energy to have expelled those microscopic blood droplets. For example, giving evidence for the prosecution, the paediatrician Professor David Southall told them he had no doubt that it was impossible for Billie-Jo in her state to expel 2-3 litres of air’, the amount the prosecution said would have been necessary to expel the blood found on Jenkins’ jacket.

At no stage did the prosecution advance any motive; in a murder trial, though, the Crown do not need to show evidence of motive. There may, though, have been an undercurrent of opinion that there was a sexual connection between the two; Billie-Jo, after all, was an attractive and precocious girl. The prosecution QC asked Jenkins when Billie-Jo’s periods began, and pointedly described the relationship between them as complex.

This idea was uppermost in everyone’s minds, agreed John Haines, one of the defence barristers. It was the most obvious suggestion for a possible motive. We said the prosecution should not even have hinted at anything. The sexual innuendo can be very persuasive. In the closing speech, we reminded the jury that the prosecution had opened the case on the basis that there was no motive, that the medical evidence was that there was no sexual or physical abuse of Billie-Jo, and that there was just no foundation for those suggestions.

But this was in the closing speech. When Jenkins entered the witness-box, many were bewildered when Anthony Scrivener QC, defence counsel, asked Jenkins just one question in the witness-box: Did you kill Billie-Jo? Jenkins replied simply, No, I didn’t. Haines conceded that this had been a difficult forensic decision, taken because of the unusually full account that Jenkins had given to police of his actions that day — an account which had already been read out in court. But it meant that Jenkins was not led through his evidence by his own counsel. And when cross-examined by the prosecution, he appeared unsure of himself.

The defence was also disinclined to use the alternative suspect evidence. This was partly because there was some confusion in the timings of the sightings of the man in Alexandra Park — even though the bulk of evidence indicated that he was seen either just before or just after the vital time.

The jury deliberated overnight, but on Thursday 2 July returned with a unanimous verdict of guilty. Jenkins was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Apart from the complex and controversial scientific evidence, there are two factors that underpin the defence case. The first is the timing. The original 999 call was logged at 3.38; Jenkins had dropped off his daughter’s friend no earlier than 3.15. After accounting for everything that needed to be fitted in to that maximum 23-minute period, there were, said the defence, at most three minutes available to Jenkins to commit the murder. In those three minutes, he needed to work himself up into a violent temper, bludgeon Billie-Jo to death, clean himself up afterwards and calm down so completely that his other two children noticed nothing untoward.

If that seems unlikely, the scenario becomes more difficult to imagine when the second factor is brought into consideration: how did he manage to do all that in the presence of his two daughters? Jenkins insists that Annie and Lottie were with him throughout. Their initial statements corroborated his account. The fact that Annie said that she spoke to Billie-Jo as she left the house indicated that Billie-Jo was still alive after the time when Jenkins was supposed to have murdered her.

This might seem to make the case for Jenkins irrefutable. Yet he was convicted, and his children’s videoed statements were not brought up in court. The reason for this was the change in his relationship with his family.

After the police had received Wain’s early report, with its incriminating interpretation of the blood spots, one of the officers reported that Jenkins had continued to maintain his innocence. The officer then wrote: Told them to feed into Mum.

In the course of a two-hour interview on 25 February, the police repeatedly told Lois that scientific evidence proved that her husband had committed the crime. The next day, she told police she felt as if she was hallucinating and that what she had heard had freaked her.

In an earlier statement to police, Lois had made no mention of Siôn Jenkins ever having been violent. But now she made a second statement in which she alleged that he had hit her on a number of occasions. Yet, according to this statement, the major source of marital disharmony had nothing to do with violence: In 1995, the friction between myself and Siôn hit an all-time high’, she explained. Siôn announced that he would be standing as the Conservative candidate in the by-elections for the West St Leonard’s ward. I was surprised and upset. Neither of us had been involved in politics, but to stand as a Conservative went against everything that I thought we believed in’.

Worse was to follow for Siôn Jenkins: on 20 March, the police spoke to the four children in the presence of Lois and told them of the strong evidence that their father had killed their sister. The police believed that Jenkins had reconstructed Annie’s testimony by speaking to her privately on the night of the murder (he had had no opportunity to speak to Lottie alone.) The defence still believed that the children’s original testimony was accurate and truthful, but felt that as a result of what the police told them on 20 March, any evidence the girls gave in court might be contaminated. The trial judge criticised the police for what happened on 20 March, and the appeal court judges added that they would be inclined to express our concerns about this aspect of the investigation rather less circumspectly.

Certainly, the police treatment of Lois and the children had devastating consequences for Siôn. His defence team felt that, despite the original video recordings, they could not call the children as witnesses at trial.

So, Jenkins was found guilty. In December 1999, he took his case to appeal, and lost. (He has also been refused permission to go to the House of Lords.) At appeal, the judges were persuaded by such points as the fact that Jenkins was the last known adult to see the deceased alive, and the first known adult to see her dead; and that his explanation for the trip to Do-It-All was itself unusual in that he went without money by a circuitous route to buy an item he did not need. The evidence of the blood-spots was, the appeal court felt, conclusive.

At appeal, the defence had introduced fresh evidence of experiments showing that a mere three drops of blood could be fragmented into 2,000 droplets and could be caused by an exhalation which was brief, inaudible and invisible. With the nose angled slightly upwards, the droplets could reach a height of 85cm above the ground.

The judges conceded that such evidence was relevant and credible, before dismissing the appeal. One of the points that will be made when the case is next argued — Jenkins is hoping to take his case to the European Court — is that this judgment conflicts with two more recent cases. In these, appeal court judges, having found that new evidence is relevant and credible, have said that it is not their place to second-guess what a jury might have thought had it heard the relevant and credible evidence, and that the only proper course was to quash the convictions and order re-trials.

Anthony Scrivener QC, Jenkins’s barrister, believes that the mistakes in the scientific evidence presented at trial were critical. The prosecution led the experts astray, he said. That was the biggest point in the case; the jury never actually heard the right expert medical evidence. The Court of Appeal agreed it was a terrible mistake, but then said, we’ve heard the fresh evidence, and the conviction is OK. That had never been done before in jurisprudence.

Meanwhile, the defence has no idea of the whereabouts of the suspect the police first thought of. The day before the murder, however, he had been in Debenhams. Billie-Jo was also in Debenhams that day, choosing the trainers she was going to buy on the Saturday. Staff there thought of this man as a weirdo. Several times during the past week he’d bought a spoon for £2.50, only to ask for a refund the following day. That Friday, he left behind in the restaurant some crazed writings in the form of a letter to the governor of the World Bank in which he referred to paedophilia and the protection of children.

After the murder, his psychiatrist refused to allow him to be questioned by police, explaining that his client was ‘floridly psychotic at the time of the murder of Billie-Jo and could not remember anything that happened on the night [sic] the murder took place’.