The witch hunt: Jo Yeates suspect gives evidence at Leveson

The Leveson inquiry continues
The Leveson inquiry continues

By Ian Dunt

An innocent man dubbed "weird", "creepy" and "disturbing" has described the "witch hunt" and "shameless vilification" he suffered at the hands of the media.

Former teacher Christopher Jefferies was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering landscape architect Joanna Yates in December last year.

The ensuing media coverage focused extensively on him being "eccentric" and a "loner".


The attacks on his character were so extensive attorney-general Dominic Grieve took the Sun and the Mirror to court for contempt of court. The articles would have made a fair trial impossible, Mr Grieves argued, as he pushed for a prison sentence in the case.

Mr Jeffries also won "substantial damages" from eight newspapers over libel claims.

The landlord told the Leveson inquiry that he had been forced to go from "friend to friend, from safe house to safe house" in a bid to escape the press pack.

"They embarked on a frenzied campaign to blacken my character," he said, describing how the coverage was a mixture of "smear, innuendo and complete fiction".

He added: "It was the most difficult period I have spent living this hole-in-corner existence with my life in effect being in abeyance.

"There was some concern about the coverage of my arrest in at least one broadsheet. People sent letters... none were published."

Mr Jeffries said he would "never fully recover from the events of last year".

Singer Charlotte Church, broadcaster Anne Diamond, former British Army intelligence officer Ian Hurst and Northern Ireland human rights campaigner Jane Winter also attended the ainquiry today.

The latter two claim their email correspondence was illegally accessed by private investigators working for the News of the World.

Ms Diamond believes she was the subject of a press vendetta after she told Rupert Murdoch his newspapers "ruined people's lives".

Ms Church told of a News of the World decision to publish a story about her father having an extramarital affair just as her mother was in hospital following a suicide attempt.

She also discussed the media harassment she experienced, including the use of photographers outside cars to try to take pictures up her skirt.

The session comes as political blogger Guido Fawkes - real name Paul Staines - was called to the inquiry after publishing evidence submitted by former Downing Street communications boss Alastair Campbell.

The papers, published yesterday afternoon, were accessed by "legal means" according to the blogger, who said he wanted to "demonstrate the freedom of the press, in the internet age, empirically". He then added: "Contra Leveson."

A statement on the Leveson inquiry website read: "The website asserts that this statement was obtained by 'legal means' but Lord Justice Leveson will be inquiring further into this claim and Mr Paul Staines will be required to give evidence."

Mr Staines issued a resolute defence of press behaviour during a select committee hearing earlier this month, alongside other bloggers.

Mr Campbell is understood to have been preparing a wide-ranging attack on the press for his appearance at the session on Wednesday morning.

As director of communication at Downing Street, Mr Campbell launched an unprecedented attack on the BBC, eventually triggering the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly.

In the wake of its sympathetic report, Mr Campbell demanded that "heads should role" – a move Tony Blair later claimed to be opposed to.

Shortly afterwards, BBC director general Greg Dyke was forced to resign.

Investigative report Nick Davies, who broke the phone-hacking story, will appear at the inquiry tomorrow. His book, Flat Earth News, is considered the most important text on the deficiencies of the modern news industry.
 

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