Who is Christopher Jeffries?


Most people actively try to bury their differences and become like everyone else for fear of ridicule. They want to belong. They want to ‘fit in’. They don’t like to be singled out, have their differences scrutinized, put on microscope slides or in Petri dishes and poked by society. I on the other hand, rejoice in it. I don’t want to belong if it means having to wrestle your individuality into a small space, paint it grey and make it… normal.

Amanda James

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The tattoos, the scars made from real life, the larger than life body frame, the rainbows, etc, etc, etc.

How long have I been different?  Since birth.

Did I will life this way?  Certainly not.  Born unto catholic parents, encouraged to be (heterosexually) married by 18, compliant with every English Lit book…I had been told to read.

I could not stand the conformed pain.  I liked the Dead…not Hall and Oates.  I dressed in what would be called, grunge.  I did not believe in ‘god’ and would express that to any priest or nun…that would ask.

The thing is, I questioned!  Not always the material items.  But always the thought process.

Why does it have to be that way?

Well, because god said so!

Still, 30, 40, years later, we (the collective) assume because someone is not like us…they observe a strange way to living!

Hate to (not) say it, the more we become a global nation…different is normal.

Christopher Jefferies doesn’t look the way you might think. In 2010, when he was arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates, and saw his character traduced by an insinuating barrage of libel in a tabloid press that was yet to see its ferocity curbed, there was an unspoken supposition that lay beneath it all: well, he looks the type.

Had a 40-year-old family man with neat hair and a suitable expression of concern been suspected of the crime, the speculation might have been somewhat restrained. But Mr Jefferies, a retired English teacher who lived alone, combined the prissiness of a polo neck with eccentrically unkempt white hair and a shabby old coat. Under the deranged scrutiny of the media, he had the misfortune to arrange his face in such a way that he appeared to be smirking. This, in the eyes of his tormentors, was enough.

A different man arrived in Cambridge to give a lecture to an audience of students at Anglia Ruskin University earlier this week. These days, Mr Jefferies does not smirk; he appears poised and self-assured, buoyed by the productive bubble of anger that survives even now. He wears winklepickers and a blazer and black shirt that fit him well, and his hair is short and dark. He appears to have lost a bit of weight. By the perverse calculus that deemed his previous appearance indicative of the capacity to kill, his look today would only hint at possible white-collar crime: insurance fraud, perhaps, or tax evasion.

“At times I’ve hardly been able to go anywhere without people stopping me and commenting,” he says with a shrug when I sit down with him afterwards. “I need to be slightly careful how I seem in public, because the chances are someone will recognise me.”

Indeed, more than four years after his surreal experience was taken up as one of those dismaying parables of our age, the world is still not finished with Chris Jefferies. Important people want his opinion on the tortuous aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry, and the question of a suspect’s right to anonymity; in a few months, ITV will screen a two-part drama about his experience by Peter Morgan, peerless chronicler of the most remarkable lives of the era; and then there are lectures such as this one. He even has an agent. “It is not,” he says drily, “the retirement I intended. In different ways, my time has been taken up with the things that followed from it ever since it happened.”

The funny thing is: despite all the trauma of his experience, these days, Mr Jefferies rather seems to be enjoying himself. For one thing, he is steeped in his subject, with an intimidating range of reference and a crusader’s conviction that the press’s worst excesses must be reined in. For another, he is a bit of an orator, making me think, paradoxically enough, of a high court judge. I’m told that his lecture will be an hour, but in the event he speaks fluently, reading from dozens of handwritten A4 sheets, for nearly 90 minutes. He is entirely composed, but there are a few moments – as when he bites with particular force on a description of the tabloids’ material as “private, scandalous, and defamatory” – when his sense of injustice and astonishment is electrifying.

People remain shocked and fascinated by his experience, and the auditorium is packed. Taking questions at the end, Mr Jefferies ranges enthusiastically around the floor like the teacher he was. If his manner has a certain peevish formality, he nonetheless makes the students laugh. His only self-conscious gesture is the occasional flattening of the few flyaway hairs that remain.

After a resounding round of applause and the fervent thanks of the criminology department, Mr Jefferies weighs up his strange new life in a meeting room. That, I suggest, was quite fun. Perhaps the way his life has changed is a silver lining as well as a cross to bear.

“It certainly is interesting,” he agrees. “But people occasionally say, well, are you glad it happened? And the answer to that is no, of course I’m not. I certainly wouldn’t want to go through that again. But on the other hand, if some good does emerge from it all, then yes, I shall be extremely pleased.”

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His fluency – he speaks in paragraphs, albeit rather stiff ones – and commitment make me wonder if he has ever thought of a more formal sort of political engagement, perhaps as one of those idiosyncratic independent MPs who act as Westminster’s occasional conscience. After all, he has concrete goals, already well-documented, that might more easily be brought about in office: the independent statutory regulation of the press; the introduction of a right to anonymity until the moment a suspect is charged. So how about it?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “The problem is that there would be so much that goes on in Parliament and constituency business that I would not really be interested in.”

It’s rather a shame, I remark: his anger is obviously still a source of energy. He smiles faintly. “Well, I’m not unhappy if that is what has come over.”

 

His fluency – he speaks in paragraphs, albeit rather stiff ones – and commitment make me wonder if he has ever thought of a more formal sort of political engagement, perhaps as one of those idiosyncratic independent MPs who act as Westminster’s occasional conscience. After all, he has concrete goals, already well-documented, that might more easily be brought about in office: the independent statutory regulation of the press; the introduction of a right to anonymity until the moment a suspect is charged. So how about it?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “The problem is that there would be so much that goes on in Parliament and constituency business that I would not really be interested in.”

It’s rather a shame, I remark: his anger is obviously still a source of energy. He smiles faintly. “Well, I’m not unhappy if that is what has come over.”

His peculiar good fortune, of course, was to be subjected to such obviously outrageous treatment that his vindication was as big a news story as his vilification had been. “There are many, many, many cases where that isn’t the case,” he says. “So the police have a responsibility as a public body to highlight somebody’s exoneration where there’s been adverse coverage and the person has been shown to be entirely innocent.” This doesn’t come naturally, even in a case as blatant as that of Mr Jefferies. Astonishingly, his bail wasn’t lifted until six weeks after Vincent Tabak, the neighbour who subsequently confessed to killing Joanna Yeates, had been charged.

Mr Jefferies is quietly proud of his determination. He uses the Peter Morgan drama – he has read and approved the script, and talked to Mr Morgan at length – to make a point about what it took to fight back. “There are things in the film which happen in a way that very closely resembles reality,” he says, “and then there are things which happened but in a different way, and there are things that didn’t happen at all.

“But there’s one particularly striking difference to me. In the film, I have to be persuaded by various people to take action. Whereas, in fact, my very first words to the solicitor when he was driving me away from the police station were: somebody has got to be sued for this. That was absolutely my determination from the start.”

I wonder if he learned anything new about himself from it all. He reflects for a moment. “I suppose,” he says matter-of-factly, “that I did discover a certain resilience.”

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Maybe this isn’t terribly surprising. His experience has taught him some distaste for the British way of doing things. “There is something about the puritan element in Britain’s past which is responsible for our sort of secret prurience. That’s the role of the popular press, who reflect on the one hand a moral censoriousness, and on the other this salacious, sensational prying.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/author/archie-bland

 

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