12:25pm Sunday 18th March 2012
© Press Association 2013
Christopher Jefferies, the man wrongly arrested by police in the hunt for the murderer of Joanna Yeates, has given a graphic account of how he was vilified by the press.
The retired teacher, who was Miss Yeates's landlord, was libelled by eight newspapers following his arrest on suspicion of her murder.
Police later exonerated Mr Jefferies and he then successfully sued eight newspapers for libel. Two national newspapers, The Sun and The Mirror, were prosecuted for contempt of court for their reporting of the episode.
The former Clifton College teacher described how some of the newspapers painted him as a "dark, macabre, sinister villain" having mistakenly believed that because he had been arrested on suspicion of murder he must be the killer.
Mr Jefferies said: "The press seemed determined to believe both that the person who had been arrested was the genuine murderer and to portray me in as dark and lurid a light as possible.
"Lo and behold you don't just have a sexual predator but you have a bisexual predator and all sorts of fantastic rumours were latched on to that I would hold pupils' hands while reading poetry, obviously with sinister sexual motives.
"To complete the character assassination it was alleged that I was fascinated by death because I happened to have shown on a couple of occasions a particularly important documentary about the liberation of Auschwitz.
"Here you have me, this dark, macabre, sinister villain. And that certainly wasn't the whole of it."
Mr Jefferies was speaking at the Benn Debate, organised by the Bristol branch of the National Union of Journalists in conjunction with the Bristol Festival of Ideas and two charities, MediaAct and MediaWise. Donnacha DeLong, president of the National Union of Journalists, chaired the event.
Mr Jefferies, who has twice appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, is currently taking legal action against Avon and Somerset Police for wrongful arrest.
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