I switched on Radio 4 this morning and found myself listening to a broadcast version of The Sun.
The Today Programme this morning carried an interview with Bill Jenkins, the natural father of Billie-Jo Jenkins, whose foster father Sion Jenkins was acquitted of her murder last week.
Understandably, Mr Jenkins’ is a man tormented. Not only has he lost a daughter in horrendous circumstances but he must also feel guilt at the circumstances that led to his daughter being fostered and anger that this did not lead to her safety. On top of that, such closure as might have been afforded by Sion Jenkins’ conviction has now been removed by his ultimate acquittal. He feels that the court reached the wrong decision last week.
One can hardly blame him for feeling angry and bitter. What is disgusting is the Today programme’s exploitation of these emotions to enable Bill Jenkins to leave listeners in no doubt that he regards Sion Jenkins as guilty and the court verdict as wrong. Of course the programme was not brave enough to let him say this in so many words and exposte them to the risk of legal action. The reporter Sanchia Berg more or less allowed Bill Jenkins to present the judge’s decision on admissibility of evidence and jury’s failure to convict as bizarre and perverse without challenge. Even such ‘difficult’ questions as were posed were put in an essentially sympathetic manner.
Most despicably of all, however, the item finished a statement that Sion Jenkins had been invited to discuss these issues but had declined, a tactic that carries ‘so what has he got to hide’ implications. Actually Sion Jenkins has had a chance to discuss the issues at three lengthy murder trials, at the end of which he was acquitted. Perhaps he feels he should not now have to tour the radio and television studios protesting his innocence, when the court has already decided the issue. At least the Sun last Saturday had the excuse that it was reporting genuine emotions felt by those closely affected in the immediate wake of the decision. The Today Programme has no such excuse for its contemptible behaviour.
I say all this not because of some macarbre interest in a horrendous murder, but because in its way the reaction to this case is all part of the assault on jury trials. In effect the media have tried Jenkins again and pronounced him guilty. Even after emotions have had time to cool, the Today Programme resurrects the lynch-mob mentality. The folk memory of this case will be of a guilty man getting off Scot-free, whatever the reality of the evidence presented to the court. I am not hearing any prominent voices vigorously defending the integrity of the legal process.