5 Jan 2011

Joanna Yeates murder hunt: police appeal for missing sock

Chief Correspondent

Detectives in Bristol reveal they are trying to trace a missing sock in the hunt for Joanna Yeates’s killer, as Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson questions apparent police “censorship” of the media.

Police also said that Joanna Yeates may have been murdered at home. They confirmed they had found her boots in her flat.

At a press conference earlier, DCI Phil Jones said: “When Jo was found on Christmas day morning she was fully clothed. She wasn’t wearing her jacket. She wasn’t wearing her boots and she was only wearing one sock.

She wasn’t wearing her boots and she was only wearing one sock. DCI Phil Jones

“The jacket and the boots have been found at her home address. That would indicate that Jo had returned home. However at this present time the sock has not been found.”

DCI Jones repeated an appeal to anyone with new information to come forward as police investigating the murder.

Joanna Yeates murder: timeline graphic.

Officers said they still do not know the location and time the landscape architect was murdered and at how long after her body was dumped by the roadside, Longwood Lane, three miles from her flat in the Clifton area of Bristol.

She was last seen on the evening of Friday December 17 after she had been drinking with colleagues in the Ram pub in Park Street.

Her strangled body was discovered on Christmas morning by a couple walking their dogs.

Detectives insist there was nothing to suggest the murderer was a serial killer, nor that Ms Yeates was sexually assaulted.

Christopher Jefferies, the only person to be arrested as part of the investigation so far, was freed on police bail pending further inquiries.

Mr Jefferies, 65, was detained last Thursday on suspicion of the murder and held until on new year’s day, when he was released.

Yesterday, Mr Jefferies lawyers issued a letter to media organisations saying that his name had been “blackened”.

In the letter, Rhys Mardon said: “His name has been blackened, and his privacy invaded. This may ultimately prejudice his right to, and any prospect of, a fair trial, in the event that he is subsequently charged.”

At Wednesday's press conference by Avon and Somerset police, a TV crew from ITN was told it was not welcome. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson blogs on a "peculiar" situation:

Extraordinary goings-on in Bristol where a British police force decided to exclude a team from ITV News on the basis that they did not like their last report. Clearly, if we are moving along the road to a place where the police decide they will only take questions from "trusted" reporters - then we are heading for a very bad place indeed.

ITV News is part of ITN which produces Channel 4 News among other programmes. So, interest duly declared - what happened? It seems Avon and Somerset police have objected to an item on ITV News at Ten last night by Geraint Vincent.

In that report a former murder squad detective was taken to where the body was found. He made some criticisms of the police investigation. He suggested pieces of litter possibly covered with DNA had not been picked up - although they could have been dropped after the event ten days ago.

But this morning, ITV roll up to the presser in Bristol, only to be denied entry. The police explained this very rare action in the following way:

"We have made a complaint to Ofcom in respect of the unfair, naïve and irresponsible reporting on the ITN ten o'clock news yesterday evening.

"As we are still awaiting a response to our complaint it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further at this time.

"A live murder investigation has been under way now for just twelve days and the media have played an important role in helping us to appeal for witnesses. While we appreciate the support we have received so far from most of the media we must step in if we feel coverage will hamper the investigation. Our primary aim will always be to secure justice for Joanna."

I make no judgement at all about last night's report. But surely nor should the police. Their business is to solve a terrible murder and it's hard to see how diverting energy into the distraction of media censorship will further that paramount aim.

I followed the Raoul Moat business last year and Northumbria police complained long and hard about some aspects of the reporting of that case. But they never, ever, contemplated anything like this.

So is there something peculiar about Avon and Somerset police force? Well the evidence suggests there might be.

Back in 2007 the same force held a briefing for the media which revealed that the police would be exhuming the bodies of former residents at the Parkfields care home who were suspected of having been poisoned by the home's owners.

Freelance journalist Simon Trump found himself uninvited to this event. He'd been covering the story closely for some time.

When Trump, a former national newspaper journalist of 12 years who worked for the Sunday Times and Today, contacted them he was told he was not invited.

A press officer told him that only journalists who the police have a special working relationship with and could trust were invited.

So it seems we have a police force here that does believe in censoring any media outlets with whose coverage it disagrees or with whom it feels it does not have a working relationship. Other forces will be watching closely.

Because the police of course have one major thing in common with the media - given a proverbial inch, they will happily take a country mile. If other chief constables see that Bristol and Avon can get away with this - rest assured they will all be at it.