Jefferies will never recover from 'reckless' coverage

Retired teacher Chris Jefferies has said he will never recover from the ordeal of being vilified in the press after he was questioned by police investigating the murder of Bristol architect Jo Yeates.

Miss Yeates disappeared on 17 December last year. Jefferies was arrested on 30 December and then released by police on 1 January.

On 29 July, eight newspapers – The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and Scotsman – together paid substantial libel damages to Jefferies over 40 articles published in late December 2010 and early January 2011.

The same day the Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 and The Sun fined £18,000 for contempt of court over three articles published on 31 December and 1 January which posed a “substantial risk” of prejudicing any trial Jefferies might have faced.

Jefferies described how he spent the period from January to March this year in hiding because he feared being hounded by the press.

Speaking in general he described the contentious stories published about him as a mixture of “smears, innuendo and complete fiction”.

The Leveson Inquiry heard that most of the libellous allegations were based on anonymous quotes.

They included the suggestion that Jefferies was a “sexually perverted voyeur”, that he was gay, that he was bisexual and that he was obsessed by death.

Among the most seriously libellous articles were the following, quoted by the inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC:

The Sun, 1 January 2011: “Jo Suspect scared kids – obsessed by death”

Daily Mirror, 1 January 2011: “Was killer waiting in Jo’s flat?”

The Sun, 31 December: “The strange Mr Jefferies”

Talking in general about the articles which led to his libel settlement, Jefferies said: “The whole slanting of the reporting was intended to be as sensational, as exploitative, as titillating and to appeal in every possible way to people’s voyeuristic instincts.”

Lord Justice Leveson himself added: “Besides doing that it was creating a picture of you which was extremely damaging…besides being entirely false.”

Jefferies revealed that on 2 August he was contacted by the Press Complaints Commission which inquired if anything could be learned from his experience to prevent a recurrence.

Jefferies told the PCC that the sort of remedies it could provide – which stop short of fines and compensation – would be “wholly inadequate”. And he said that he rejected the idea of editors themselves ruling on a complaint against editors.

He said: “The shocking and reckless irresponsibility displayed by sections of the media is in part due to the failure of the current system.”

Jefferies told the inquiry that individual editors themselves had made no effort to contact him or apologise personally and he noted that the official apologies appeared on page two (whereas much of the contentious coverage was on the front page).

Jefferies also told the inquiry that concerns had been raised about the coverage of his case in one particular unnamed broadsheet newspaper.

He said: “I’m aware that quite a large number of people wrote to that particular newspaper to complain about its coverage of my arrest. None of those letters were published in that broadsheet and there was no response.”

Jefferies said: “When coverage is so widespread as it was in my case..There will always be people who don’t know me who will retain the impression that I’m some sort of weird character who is probably best avoided even if they were not guilty of these specific criminal activities.”

Jefferies noted that he could not have brought his libel action without the current Conditional Fee Agreement system which allowed him to sue on a no win, no fee basis.

He said: “I will never fully recover from the events of the last year…it is something for which it will be difficult ever to escape. I very much hope that as a result of the present inquiry it will be possible to put in place arrangements whereby it will be very difficult indeed for newspapers to behave in future in the way in which they behaved in my case.”

Asked whether he had ever sought to sell his story, Jefferies said: “I have an agent which is in contact with all those media organisations who are interested in what happened to me. There were a very large number of contacts made following my release from custody. It would not have been impossible for me to deal myself with all of those…”

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