Christopher Jefferies told 'sorry' by police over arrest distress
- 16 September 2013
- From the section Bristol
The former landlord of murder victim Jo Yeates has been sent a letter by police saying "sorry" for distress he suffered during the probe into her death.
Christopher Jefferies was arrested after the 25-year-old was found dead in December 2010, but was eliminated from the inquiry several months later.
Avon and Somerset Police said it should have issued a statement straight away indicating he was no longer a suspect.
Mr Jefferies said the letter was "an important conclusion" to events.
His detention over the murder sparked massive press interest, and he later successfully sued a number of newspapers for libel.
He has said he was "vilified" by the media following his arrest.
Ms Yeates, who lived in Bristol and rented a flat from Mr Jefferies, was killed by her neighbour Vincent Tabak.
Tabak was jailed for a minimum of 20 years after being found guilty of her murder by a jury at Bristol Crown Court in October 2011.
In the letter to Mr Jefferies, dated 5 August, the new Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, Nick Gargan, said: "I write formally to acknowledge the hurt that you suffered as a result of that arrest, detention and eventual release on police bail in connection with the murder of Joanna Yeates in December 2010 and which was the subject of huge media interest.
"I accept unequivocally that you played no part in the murder and that you are wholly innocent of the crime."
The BBC's Jon Kay said it was highly unusual for police to send a letter of exoneration stating the total innocence of a former suspect.
Mr Gargan said the letter came about after a discussion with Mr Jefferies about legal action he was taking against the force, which has now concluded.
He said it was part of the settlement to Mr Jefferies, which also included compensation in relation to damage caused to his property during the murder investigation.
In 2012, Mr Jefferies told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that he had been told police had "inadvertently leaked" information about him after he was arrested, which led him to be "shamelessly vilified" by the press.
Although Mr Gargan did not refer to this in his letter, he accepted that the force had failed to "make it clear publicly" that Mr Jefferies was no longer considered a suspect when he was released from bail on 5 March 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 said.
However, he also stressed that "we believe your arrest was an integral step in this challenging and complex investigation".
Mr Gargan added that "all DNA, fingerprint and photographic evidence" regarding Mr Jefferies had been destroyed.
He also said he would like to meet Mr Jefferies to "discuss any lessons" the force could learn from his experience.
'Finger of suspicion'
Mr Jefferies said: "It provides an important conclusion to the whole aftermath of what I had to go through following my arrest.
"As the letter itself explains it provides the public vindication which was not given at the time I was released from police bail."
He said his friends and family had been subjected to "a great deal of media harassment and a great deal of media intrusion, and for too long the finger of suspicion was pointed at me".
"As far as I was concerned, I think probably the period of nine weeks during which I was still on police bail and when I couldn't return to my flat, that was the most difficult period I've experienced."
Mr Jefferies said he had now recovered from the ordeal, but the last three years had been "dominated by things that had arisen as a result of my arrest", including his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry.
Speaking about Mr Gargan's invitation to discuss lessons to be learned by the force, he said: "In my case what happened was partly because the police were under such extreme media pressure themselves and they had to be seen to be acting.
"It's been suggested, and I don't know if there's any truth in this, the length of time I was on police bail was an attempt to suggest perhaps there were some details which gave rise to reasonable suspicion I was the murderer.
"But I think it's extremely important when investigations such as these are being conducted police do realise how much distress can be caused to entirely innocent people."
Mr Gargan said: "We're dealing with Mr Jefferies' feelings here. It was an enormous ordeal for him and we feel an enormous sympathy toward him and he's asked if we'd write this letter - and in the circumstance I'm entirely content to do so."
Regarding the compensation, he said: "We quite often have to settle with people when our actions cause a bit of damage here and there - or we retain property that then loses its value.
"My understanding is that there has been a small amount of money paid. I don't know how much it is."