Other High Profile Cases and Persons of Interest > The murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates in Bristol in December 2010.

Introduction to the Joanna Yeates case.

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John:
Further enquiries

Senior officers from the investigation asked for assistance from the National Policing Improvement Agency, which provides expertise for difficult cases. On 4 January 2011, a clinical forensic psychologist, who had previously been involved as a criminal profiler in other high profile murder cases, joined the investigation to help narrow down the number of potential suspects.[60] Jones stated that his officers had established over 1,000 lines of inquiry.[31][61] Jones said, "I can assure you, we are determined to solve this crime and bring Jo's killers to justice."[62] On 5 January, Detective Chief Inspector Jones announced that one of Yeates' socks was missing when she was found dead and that it had not been found at the crime scene or in her home.[63]

Police launched a national advertising campaign to appeal for witnesses through Facebook. The page, established on the 4 January, had been viewed nearly 250,000 times by the following day, while CCTV footage of Yeates had been viewed 120,000 times on YouTube by the 5 January.

On the 9 January 2011, Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy gave her support to the idea of a public DNA screening process if the police found it useful. The Avon and Somerset Constabulary had conducted mass DNA screening during the 1995 investigation into the disappearance of Louise Smith. McCarthy suggested that the screening process should be extended beyond Clifton to the wider Bristol area. DNA that had been found on Yeates' body was tested for a potential profile. Detectives also began tracking the movements of several hundred registered sex offenders living within their jurisdiction to determine the individuals' whereabouts on the 17 December.

John:
Arrests and reconstruction of crime

Shortly after 7:00 am on the 30 December 2010, Christopher Jefferies, Yeates' landlord who lived in the same building, was arrested on suspicion of her murder. He was taken to a local police station for questioning while forensic investigators inspected his flat. On the 31 December, a senior police officer granted investigators a 12-hour extension to the arrest, enabling them to hold him in custody for additional questioning. Police subsequently applied to magistrates for further extensions which were granted on the 31 December and the 1 January. Investigators were able to detain him as a suspect for up to 96 hours but released Jefferies on bail after two days. He retained the legal services of the law firm Stokoe Partnership to act on his behalf. On the 4 March 2011, police released him from bail and stated he was no longer a suspect. He subsequently won an undisclosed sum in libel damages for defamatory news articles published following his arrest, and received an apology from Avon and Somerset Police for any distress caused to him during the investigation.



                                                  Landlord and initial police suspect, Chris Jefferies.

In January 2011, a reconstruction of the case was filmed on location in Bristol for broadcast in the 26 January edition of the BBC television programme Crimewatch. Snow Business, a Gloucestershire-based firm that had been involved in the production of the Harry Potter films was contracted to reproduce the snowy conditions at the time of Yeates' disappearance. The reconstruction of Yeates' last movements was filmed on the 18 January, and within 24 hours of news coverage about the production, over 300 people contacted the police. A breakthrough led investigators to believe that Yeates' body might have been transported in a large holdall or suitcase.

On the morning of the 20 January 2011, Avon and Somerset Constabulary arrested 32-year-old Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak, who lived with his girlfriend in the flat next door to Yeates. However, authorities declined to reveal additional details while the suspect was being interrogated due to concerns over controversial media coverage of Jefferies' arrest, which had breached the rules governing what can be reported when an individual is arrested. The Tabak arrest followed an anonymous tip from a female caller, shortly after a televised appeal by Yeates' parents on Crimewatch. Canynge Road was closed by police while scaffolding was constructed around Yeates' home and officers sealed off Tabak's adjacent flat. Investigators also searched the nearby townhouse of a friend where Tabak was believed to have been staying about a mile away. Tabak had previously been ruled out as a suspect during an earlier stage of the investigation, and had returned to Britain from a holiday visit to his family in the Netherlands.



                 Vincent Tabak with girlfriend Tanja Morson whose family later said she had a lucky escape.


Following Tabak's arrest, the BBC cancelled its plans to air the Yeates re-enactment on Crimewatch. On the 31 January, previously unseen photos of Yeates were released through the programme's website.

John:
DNA tests

DNA tests were carried out by LGC Forensics, a private company which undertakes forensic analysis for criminal investigations. Lindsey Lennen, a body fluids and DNA specialist member of the team that analysed DNA samples from Yeates' body, said that although DNA swabs matched Tabak, they were not of sufficient quality to be evaluated. The team deployed a method known as DNA SenCE, which enhances unusable DNA samples through purification and concentration: "We couldn't say whether the DNA was from saliva, or semen, or even touch. But we could say that the probability of it not being a match with Tabak was less than one in a billion."



                                               Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak.

Murder charge and plea

After questioning during 96 hours of detention, Tabak was charged on the 22 January 2011 with the murder of Joanna Yeates. He made a brief appearance at Bristol's Magistrates' Court on the 24 January and was remanded in custody. Tabak, legally represented by Paul Cook, declined to request bail during a hearing the following day. Tabak was moved from Bristol Prison because of fears for his safety and was placed under suicide watch at Long Lartin Prison near Evesham. Tabak's family and friends in the Netherlands started to raise funds for his court defence.

Tabak initially maintained he was not responsible for Joanna Yeates' death, claiming that DNA evidence linking him to the crime had been fabricated by corrupt officials. However, on the 8 February, he told Peter Brotherton, a prison chaplain, that he had killed her and intended to plead guilty.

On the 5 May 2011, Vincent Tabak pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Yeates, but denied murdering her. His plea of guilty to manslaughter was rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service. On the 20 September, Tabak appeared in person at a pre-trial hearing at Bristol Crown Court. Appearances at previous hearings had been made via videolink from prison.

John:
Trial

The trial of Vincent Tabak started on the 4 October 2011 at the Crown Court at Bristol before Mr Justice Field. His counsel in the trial was William Clegg QC and the prosecutor was Nigel Lickley QC. Tabak pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but denied murder.

The prosecution case was that Tabak strangled Yeates at her flat within minutes of her arrival home on 17 December 2010 using "sufficient force" to kill her. The prosecutors stated that Tabak – around a foot taller than Yeates – had used his height and build to overpower her, pinning her to the floor by the wrists, and that she had suffered 43 separate injuries to her head, neck, torso and arms during the struggle. The injuries included cuts, bruises, and a fractured nose. Lickley told the court that the struggle was lengthy, and her death would have been slow and painful. However, he did not offer an explanation for the reasoning behind Tabak's initial attack on Yeates.

Evidence was presented that Tabak had tried to conceal the crime by disposing of her body. The court heard that DNA swabs taken from Yeates' body had provided a match with Tabak. Samples found behind the knees of her jeans indicated she may have been held by the legs as she was carried, while fibres suggested contact with Tabak's coat and car. Blood stains were found on a wall overlooking a quarry close to where Yeates was discovered. The prosecution also said that Tabak attempted to implicate Jefferies for the murder during the police investigation, and that in the days following Yeates' death, he had made internet searches for topics that included the length of time a body takes to decompose and the dates of refuse collections in the Clifton area.

In his defence, Tabak claimed that the killing had not been sexually motivated and told the court that he had killed Yeates while trying to silence her after she screamed when he tried to kiss her. He claimed that Yeates had made a "flirty comment" and invited him to drink with her. He said that after she screamed he held his hands over her mouth and around her neck to silence her. He denied suggestions of a struggle, claiming to have held Yeates by the neck with only minimal force, and "... for about 20 seconds". He told the court that after dumping the body he was "... in a state of panic".

The jury was sent out to deliberate on the 26 October and returned with a verdict two days later. On the 28 October 2011, Tabak was found guilty of Joanna Yeates' murder by a 10 to 2 majority verdict. He was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 20 years. Passing sentence, Mr Justice Field referred to a "sexual element" to the killing.

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