Jefferies: my murder probe distress
The innocent landlord of murdered landscape architect Joanna Yeates has said police need to realise how distressing being wrongly arrested for her killing was after receiving a letter from the force expressing regret.
Christopher Jefferies said the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police has suggested he speak to detectives about his experience so they could hear the perspective of "somebody on the other side of the fence".
The "letter of exoneration expressing regret" from Nick Gargan over the force's handling of Mr Jefferies's detention, bail and subsequent release without charge after 25-year-old Miss Yeates's death in December 2010 acknowledges the "hurt" caused to the 68-year-old retired teacher when police failed to clear him publicly of suspicion over her murder when releasing him from bail in March 2011.
Mr Jefferies said the "horrifying experience" led him to believe that suspects should not be named unless they are charged with an offence. He said that during the nine weeks he spent on bail it was impossible for him to return to his flat or live "anything approaching a normal life". He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think that would be certainly an important step and it would prevent a great deal, certainly, of the distress which happened to members of my family, quite apart from what happened to me, because I think one shouldn't underestimate the way in which their lives were changed during the days that I was in custody as a result of the media harassment and the media intrusion."
Mr Gargan said it was for Parliament and not police to decide whether suspects should be named. "I don't think it's for the police to say what the law should and shouldn't say," he told Today. "There's a balance to be struck here. On the one hand, if you don't name suspects, then there's a risk that the publicity the big high profile cases attract will fail to flush out additional victims and that's happened in the past in many, many cases: somebody's been charged and the fact that they've been charged has then brought other people forward who've been victims of that person. That's balanced by cases like this one where Mr Jefferies was subject to a wholly unjustified campaign by the press of vilification which he's rightly been able to set the record straight and we're setting the record straight today."
Mr Gargan, who was not part of the force at the time Mr Jefferies was arrested, said he felt "enormous personal sympathy for him". "This was a very hurtful episode for him and we could have been and indeed should have been much quicker to make it clear that we weren't connecting him with the crime after he'd been released from police bail," he said.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast, Mr Jefferies said: "I think it's extremely important that when investigations such as this are being conducted, the police do realise just how much distress can be caused, as happened in my case, to entirely innocent people." Speaking of Mr Gargan's invitation to speak to detectives, he said: "I think he feels that it would be quite interesting for them to hear from somebody on the other side of the fence, as it were, exactly the kind of experience which they need to be aware of."
Mr Jefferies was arrested on December 30 2010 and questioned by detectives for two days before being bailed after Miss Yeates was found dead on Christmas Day. Dutch national Vincent Tabak, who lived next door to her and her boyfriend Greg Reardon, 27, in Canynge Road, Bristol, was jailed for life in October 2011 for her murder.
Mr Gargan joined Avon and Somerset from the National Policing Improvement Agency in March, replacing Colin Port, who was in charge at the time of the murder. In his letter to Mr Jefferies, Mr Gargan said the pensioner's arrest was an "integral step" in the investigation, but added: "I accept unequivocally that you played no part in the murder and that you are wholly innocent of the crime. I understand the length of time you spent on police bail caused you significant distress and inevitably prolonged the period of time when you remained in the public eye as someone who was still suspected of involvement in an appalling crime. The police did not make it clear publicly that you were no longer a suspect in the investigation as soon as you were released from bail on March 5 2011. While it is not normal practice to make such a public statement, in the circumstances of the exceptional media attention your arrest attracted I acknowledge we should have considered this and I am very sorry for the suffering you experienced as a result." He also said that all DNA, fingerprints and photographs taken of Mr Jefferies after his arrest have been destroyed.
Mr Gargan, who met Mr Jefferies on Friday, said the force stood by the decision to arrest the landlord. "The media attention and vilification to which Christopher Jefferies was subjected during the Joanna Yeates murder investigation was unprecedented, and I understand how difficult it must have been for him," he said. "It was a complex investigation, carried out under the most intense public scrutiny and the investigating officer had to pursue every reasonable line of inquiry."