Joanna Yeates was found dead in her flat on Christmas Day 2010. What followed was one of the most egregious examples of abuse of power by the press, as retired schoolteacher Christopher Jefferies was wrongly accused of murdering Yeates, in a ‘trial by media’ that became one of the key catalysts of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.
On Wednesday 31 May, the Regent Street cinema in London hosted a dramatization of this story, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (Roger Michell, 2015), introduced by Jefferies himself. We organised this screening as part of our Knowing Our Rights (KoR) project, which seeks to increase and deepen knowledge of the European Convention of Human Rights in the UK. The film raised several important human rights, notably concerning the relationship of the press with the right to privacy.
At the end of the screening, Jefferies was joined by Brian Cathcart from the Hacked Off campaign, and the film’s writer Peter Morgan (the writer of ‘Frost/Nixon’ and ‘The Queen’, among other celebrated films), and they all entered in conversation with the audience and director of the KoR project Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos who chaired the panel.
As Prof Cathcart argued, proposed changes to legal aid funding mean that if anyone else finds themselves in Jefferies’ situation in the future, it will be much more difficult for them to be able to afford to defend themselves.
Christopher Jefferies rounded off the event by saying that despite the traumatic circumstances of his story, the experience was worth it due to the spotlight his case put on the shortcomings of the British media.
Peter Morgan spoke of the reasons that led him to undertake this project in the first place, the fact that he too had made an obscene prejudgment of the ‘eccentric teacher’ who found himself suspected of murder.
Dr Giannoulopoulos placed the events depicted in the film in the context of current debates around the Human Rights Act, with a focus on fair trial guarantees and the right to privacy in particular which, in this case, had been completely disregarded by the press.
Dr Paul Moody provided coordination of the event.