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Saturday, February 11, 2006 

Sun-watch: Ridiculous accusations of cowardice.

It looks like the critics predictions are coming true. We seem to have at last reached the stage of trial by media. The Sun, in an incredibly cynical move, asked Sion Jenkins, tried 3 times over the murder of his foster-daughter Billie-Jo, to take a polygraph test. He rightly refused. Cue the hollers of protest from both the newspaper and his ex-wife that he must therefore have something to hide.

To start with, polygraph tests are notoriously unreliable and have been condemned time and again by many eminent scientists. Then there's the small matter that Sion Jenkins has been through 9 years of trials. He was originally convicted, appealed against the decision and was denied a re-trial. He appealed again, this time with new evidence suggesting that the blood droplets which were found on his clothes were breathed out by Billie-Jo as he cradled her following the attack which left her with a huge hole in her skull, from being beaten with a metal tent peg. The judges accepted his application for a re-trial based on the new evidence, but the jury in the first retrial failed to reach a verdict. Tried once more, the new jury again failed to reach a majority verdict. He has been released, and the crown has decided that no new evidence will be presented against him.

Of course, this brings up the unpleasant question of who actually did kill Billie-Jo. The only other suspect, a mentally ill man who was apparently seen in the area around the time that she was killed has an alibi, according to the police. Nearly every newspaper yesterday published allegations by Lois Jenkins, Sion's first wife, that he had beaten both her and the other children they had had together. Mr Jenkins had also lied about his CV in order to get the job of headmaster at a local secondary school. Both judges in the retrials felt that those allegations were not relevant to the trial, and so were not presented to the juries. What is not known is whether such evidence would have convinced either jury of Jenkins' guilt, but what has to be remembered is that the jury heard all the evidence; the media did not, and neither did the average man or commentator in the street. For the Sun and Jenkins wife to then accuse him of cowardice for refusing to take a polygraph when he has spent 9 years in prison for a crime he has always denied he committed, and especially when two juries found him not guilty by way of not being able to reach a verdict, is incredibly low and close to accusation of guilt by media.

The sad fact is that no one comes out of the whole tragic story well. Sion Jenkins seems to be ready to tell his story to the highest bidder, as is his ex-wife. The police are left with being accused of incompetence. Both of Billie-Jo's natural parents, of whom the mother was a heavy drinker and the father was in and out of prison, are also trying to sell their story, if they haven't already. Maggie Coster, Billie-Jo's aunt attacked Sion Jenkins as he left the court, punching him repeatedly in the face. After the non-verdict had been announced, she shouted from the public gallery: "It's not over Jenkins you fucking child killer, everyone knows it. She was a 13-year-old kid, you fucking bible bashing prat, it ain't over." She later also said: "We want justice for her, revenge is sweet." Then there's the media, of which some sections seem to have made up their mind about what happened.

All of this ignores the simple fact that a 13-year-old was brutally murdered. While Maggie Coster claims she wants justice, she in the same sentence wants revenge. Revenge is not justice. In the melee and aftermath, all are trying to say that they cared the most about the poor girl, all while grabbing the cash on offer from a complicit media which loves such a tragic story. Compared to former miscarriages of justice, which restored your faith in the system and the media which often brought the cases to the attention of the nation, the only thing this leaves is an incredibly sour taste in the mouth.

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