A police force today rejected suggestions that officers leaked information about Joanna Yeates’ landlord to journalists at the time of his arrest on suspicion of her murder.
The detective who led the investigation also defended the decision to keep retired teacher Christopher Jefferies on police bail for six weeks after Yeates’s killer was charged.
Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones said Jefferies could only be formally eliminated as a suspect once forensic tests were completed on blood-stained trainers found hidden under a kitchen unit in his home.
Jefferies told the Leveson Inquiry last month of his belief that police told reporters about the contents of a second witness statement he gave about Yeates’ disappearance from Bristol just before Christmas 2010.
He said he thought it was “likely” that officers told journalists they had suspicions about him, leading to “feverish” interest in him on December 29 2010, the day before he was wrongly arrested.
“It is worth emphasising that I had told no more than three neighbours about that second statement to the police and they all subsequently assured me that they were not the source of the information that then appeared in the media,” Mr Jefferies told the inquiry.
But Avon and Somerset Police insisted today that it did not brief any journalists about the retired teacher.
‘Jefferies was still a suspect in the investigation’
Chief Constable Colin Port disputed the number of people whom Jefferies told about the contents of his second statement to police.
“That is incorrect, and I completely understand why Mr Jefferies cannot recollect that,” he said.
“But I have counted eight people, including some people who were paid by the media for information.”
Det Chief Insp Jones said there were operational reasons why Jefferies remained on police bail until March 4 2011, even though Miss Yeates’s neighbour Vincent Tabak was charged with her murder on January 22 2011.
He told the press standards inquiry: “When Vincent Tabak was interviewed, he gave no comment in interview. There was only a very small area around a mobile phone which he was willing to talk about.
“One of the topics in that interview concerned Mr Jefferies, to which he again made no comment. Mr Jefferies was still a suspect in the investigation.
“There was still ongoing forensic examination being undertaken. In particular there was a pair of trainers which were found in Mr Jefferies’ house which were hidden underneath a kitchen unit behind a kickboard.
“Those trainers had a blood spot on them. That was initially analysed, and because of a sensitive forensic technique which had to be used, eventually a DNA profile was found and Mr Jefferies could be eliminated.”
Port added: “We arrest 45,000 people each year. About 21,000 of those – an enormous number, too many in my opinion – are bailed, 1,600 of those are bailed longer than three months.
“We are doing something about that internally, but just to set the context, it wasn’t extraordinary. Unfortunately it was usual.”
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