11 August, 2010

The death of innocence

Sion Jenkins was a Deputy Head teacher. In 1998 he was found guilty of the murder of 13 year-old Billie-Jo, his foster daughter. He claimed, and still does claim, that he had returned to their house and found her body. After six years in jail he was released pending a new trial. In that and in a subsequent one (the last Labour Government abolished the ‘double jeopardy’ rule so the State can have as many goes as it likes at proving you guilty) the jury failed to convict him.

He now wants compensation for the six years he spent in jail.

The compensation committee and the minister concerned say he doesn’t merit compensation because to get it you have to show you were ‘clearly innocent’.

Now, there isn’t a court in England which can pronounce you innocent. The best they can do is ‘not guilty’. Under the presumption of innocence, which has also suffered under a succession of illiberal Home Secretaries, someone who has not been found guilty is not guilty.

There is, for example, a whole raft of crimes of which I am not guilty, such as throwing a custard pie at the Lord Chief Justice, or hanging up former Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Michael Howard by their heels and beating them with a hosepipe until they admitted they only tampered with the centuries-old justice system for political gain.

But I have not been found guilty of these crimes and must be regarded as innocent of them.

The second reason our treatment of Mr Jenkins is outrageous is that, as stated above, the state can continue prosecuting you, once a year for the rest of your life, until it gets the verdict it wants. After being found not guilty of a crime you cannot just sit back, happy that your name has been cleared, you have this threat hanging over you until you die. So you can never be ‘clearly innocent’ as the compensation committee requires.

If our justice system means anything at all Mr Jenkins must be allowed his money and left in peace.

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