Trail of Guilt

On 18 January 2000, BBC1 screened a docu-drama showing how the police used forensic evidence to convict Siôn Jenkins of murder.

The forty minute programme revealed little scientific detail to justify the eventual outcome of the case. If it was a faithful record of how the investigation was actually conducted, the programme clearly demonstrates that decisions were made not on the basis of reason or deduction, but according to the opinions of two individuals — Jeremy Paine and Adrian Wain.

The story was presented in the style of a police drama. Events were depicted to evoke emotion, and for effect rather than for accuracy.

The scene portraying the discovery of blood spattering on Siôn Jenkins’ clothing is followed by a shot of Adrian Wain describing his surprise, “knowing who he was and what his position was”. Wain makes clear that from this point he assumed the murderer to be Siôn Jenkins.

Viewers are then told that Jeremy Paine became ‘convinced’ that Siôn Jenkins must have killed Billie-Jo.There is nothing to show the evidence on which his certainty was founded.

It seems that from this stage, not long after the murder, being able to charge Siôn Jenkins with murder became the main focus of police efforts.

Wain states in the film: “There were huge pressures on me to provide an answer one way or the other”. It was evidently made clear to Hastings police that they had two weeks to produce ‘the evidence the CPS asked for’

In effect, they were shaping the evidence to fit their hypothesis.They were not looking for objective proof.

At this stage the film showed two excited detectives discussing the discovery of Siôn Jenkins’ falsified CV. They agreed that they could now charge him with obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception. This event was presented as a momentous turning point for the prosecution.

The film clearly demonstrated that the discovery of the falsified CV was a key factor in confirming the police view that Siôn Jenkins was guilty of murder.

This was an illogical connection, but one which proved to have drastic consequences.

Forensic evidence

Adrian Wain spoke about his experiments with a pig’s head and a leg of pork. Blood was applied to the surfaces before they were battered by Wain. The findings from this activity provided apparently compelling proof of Siôn Jenkins’ guilt.

At appeal the rigorous scientific evidence offered an alternative explanation which was acknowledged as ‘relevant’ and ‘credible’.

When Siôn Jenkins was granted bail police outrage was intense. In the film Jeremy Paine openly reveals his contemptuous view that it was only granted because Siôn Jenkins was “middle class and respectable.”

Personal prejudice is an unreliable basis for police activity.

Over the year leading up to the trial, police are described as reconstructing the details of what took place. Jeremy Paine and Ann Capon are depicted at the scene of the crime, speculating on how events unfolded. In the garden of the Jenkins home, Paine comments that the tent peg would be ‘the nearest weapon to hand.’

At the appeal it was pointed out that other potential weapons would have been much nearer to someone actually inside the house, as Siôn Jenkins was known to have been.

As the programme approaches its close Jeremy Paine gives his view of what he judges to be Siôn Jenkins’ arrogance in refusing to admit to having killed Billie-Jo.In talking about how Siôn Jenkins reacted on finding Billie-Jo, he confidently asserts that this behaviour was not “what you or I would have done”.

How can anyone know what they would do in such a traumatic circumstances? How likely is it that anyone would actually — as Paine suggested — cradle in their arms a victim with the horrific injuries Billie-Jo suffered?

In the film, shots of police building up their hypothesis alternate with shots of the narrative they are creating. The borders between reality and fiction are blurred by this technique.

This film was made with the explicit co-operation of Hastings police. If it gives a true account of their work it is no wonder that there is still enormous disquiet about the result it achieved.

‘Trail of Guilt’ trivialises a tragedy. In the light of the retrial verdict, it provides a revealing insight into the background to the original trial, and what is meant by justice in Britain today.