31 Dec 2010

Police given more time to quiz Joanna Yeates murder suspect

Detectives continue to question Chris Jefferies, 65, the man arrested in connection with the murder of Bristol landscape architect. He was her landlord as Jane Deith reports.

The former English teacher at the centre of the Joanna Yeates murder investigation is still being questioned by Avon and Somerset police about the 25-year-old’s death.

A magistrate tonight granted the police an extension to hold Chris Jefferies, 65 beyond the deadline of 7pm tonight, for further questioning. Without the extension being granted, police could only hold Mr Jefferies for 24 hours without charging him. He was arrested on Thursday at 7pm.

Magistrates are able to authorise further detention for up to 96 hours, although it is not yet clear how long Mr Jefferies could be held.

A force spokesman said: “Police have today, Friday December 31, been granted more time to question a 65-year-old man, arrested on suspicion of murder on Thursday December 30, by magistrates.”

The development came after officers spent several hours talking to Peter Stanley, 56, a neighbour of Mr Jefferies, who said he and Mr Jefferies helped start Miss Yeates’s boyfriend’s car the day she vanished. Police said Mr Stanley is assisting the investigation as a witness.


Mr Jefferies was arrested on Thursday at his flat above the basement property he rented to Joanna Yeates, a landscape architect, and her boyfriend Greg Reardon, 27.

His arrest came just 24 hours after he had claimed seeing three people leave Miss Yeates’ flat in Canynge Road, in the Clifton area of Bristol, on 17 December, the night she vanished.

Local people have described Mr Jefferies as a “nutty professor type” who was active in his community – he was a keen member of the local Neighbourhood Watch group.

Joanna Yeates murder: her former landlord Chris Jefferies.

He taught English at Clifton College, close his flat, from the early 1970s before taking early retirement in 2001.

Former colleague, retired history teacher Richard Bland, told Channel 4 News of his “total shock” at the arrest of Mr Jefferies.

He said: “It just seemed so extremely unlikely…the shock of this situation is one couldn’t possibly imagine Chris being involved in the way he’s alleged to have been.”

Asked about Mr Jefferies’s teaching style and reputation for “eccentricity”, Mr Bland said: “A lot of people have said he was eccentric and in a sense I suppose he was…but in a sense all school teachers are eccentric, because eccentricities are developed partly as a way of protecting one’s own inner self from being on show all the time.”

He added: “One had him down as a permanent bachelor. He’s never shown an interest in girls of any kind, any interest in boys of any kind…Bachelorhood was quite common.”

Mr Jefferies, a campaigner for the Liberal Democrats, is also a member of the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS), which campaigns to conserve buildings in the area.

Ray Lowman, who lives in a flat opposite said: “I’m amazed by it really but also find it quite disconcerting. He is basically a pillar of society. One of the well-known familiar locals.”

Councillor Trevor Blythe, who represents Clifton Ward for the Lib Dems on Bristol City Council, said: “We were absolutely flabbergasted when we heard he’d been arrested, I didn’t know him particularly well, but it was very surprising.”

On Thursday police took two cars away on low loaders – a silver Chrysler Neon parked on the street and a grey Volvo S40 that was on Jefferies’ drive – for examination.

A forensic examination of the building where Mr Jefferies lives is continuing. Miss Yeates’s snow-covered body was found on Christmas morning by a couple walking their dogs in Longwood Lane in Failand, North Somerset. She had been strangled.

Police deny link to 1974 murder

Police have said they are not investigating links between Joanna Yeates’s death and the unsolved murder of Glenis Carruthers who was found strangled outside Bristol Zoo in January 1974.

A spokesman said: “Investigations into the murder of Joanna Yeates continues. A 65-year-old man remains in custody. We would like to again stress, that there are no links between this murder and any unsolved crime within Avon and Somerset.”

Warning to newspapers
The Attorney General has issued a warning to newspapers about their coverage of the man being questioned in connection with Joanna Yeates's death.

Dominic Grieve has said he is considering what action he should take to ensure the course of justice is not impeded in any way.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "We need to avoid a situation where trials cannot take place or are prejudiced as a result of irrelevant or improper material being published, whether in print form or on the internet, in such a way that a trial becomes impossible."

Asked whether he was preparing to issue an advisory notice to newspapers, he said: "Clearly, we are considering what I have seen in the newspapers today and we will try to take such action, and it is right to ensure that the course of justice is not in any way impeded."

Mr Grieve stressed that there was "freedom of the press", but newspapers have to comply with the Contempt of Court Act to avoid prejudicing possible future trials.

The Attorney General - the Government's top law officer - added that newspapers were "pretty familiar" with the contempt of court rules.

"In those circumstances I would simply ask them to reflect carefully on how they provide proper coverage on a matter of public importance while at the same time, mindful of how our legal system works, they can also ensure that a trial process - if one were ever to happen - would not be prejudiced by material being published that may be irrelevant to any case that comes before the court but could be seriously prejudicial to an individual who is standing trial.

"That is the key issue that needs to be considered."