The dangers of trial by media are laid bare in ITV’s drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, based on a real-life case.
At the time of his arrest in 2010, Christopher Jefferies (played by Jason Watkins in the ITV drama) was an ex-English teacher and landlord who lived alone, and was arrested on suspicion of murdering a female tenant, Joanna Yeates.
The press were quick to focus on his appearance and deem his behaviour as “strange,” hounding him even after his release from bail.
Read on for everything you need to know about the real-life story behind the ITV drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.
Who is Christopher Jefferies?
Christopher Jefferies is a retired schoolteacher and landlord who was arrested on suspicion of murder in December 2010, after his tenant Joanna Yeates was killed.
His arrest gained widespread attention and he was vilified in the press. He was later released from bail and the police revealed that he was no longer a suspect.
What happened to Christopher Jefferies?
Bristol-based landscape artist and missing person Joanna Yeates was discovered dead on Christmas Day 2010, and it was revealed that she had been murdered.
Both police and the tabloid press initially appeared to suspect Yeates’ “eccentric”-looking landlord, Jefferies, who lived in a separate flat in the same building in Bristol.
The tabloids’ demonisation of Jefferies is dramatised in ITV’s The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, written by Peter Morgan (The Crown) and it won BAFTA TV Awards for Best Mini-series and Best Actor at the 2015 ceremony.
His treatment at the hands of the tabloids and broadsheets alike was later criticised by media commentators, referring to articles calling him a “peeping Tom” (in The Daily Mirror), “strange Mr Jefferies” (in The Sun), or stating that Jefferies “has been described by pupils at Clifton College… as a fan of dark and violent avant garde films” (in The Telegraph).
Watching ITV's The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies. Brings back memories of events in Clifton a decade ago. I knew Chris and was astounded that anyone could think him a murderer. An innocent man treated terribly by the police and the tabloids.— Stephen Williams 🔶 (@StephenRW01) August 17, 2020
Speaking to Radio Times about the ITV drama, Jefferies himself said that he felt dispassionate watching Jason Watkins play him.
“Although I appear played by a character who looks remarkably like me, or who was made up to look remarkably like me, probably what comes across – but obviously I am not the best person to judge – is that this is somebody who represents or caricatures certain aspects of me, exaggerated and separated, as it were, from the whole, in order to make the point [writer] Peter Morgan wanted to make.”
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Who killed Jo Yeates?
Christopher Jefferies was released without charge and another of his tenants, Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak, was ultimately convicted of Joanna Yeates’ murder.
Where is he now?
Christopher Jefferies successfully brought libel action against eight publications – The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Record, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and The Scotsman – accepting “substantial” damages.
His case is often cited as an example of ‘trial by media’. Following the phone hacking scandal, Jefferies also gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into UK press practises at The Royal Courts of Justice, London, in 2012.