This film, based on a true story, relates events leading to a tragic miscarriage of justice due to the denigration of the reputation of an ordinary citizen who just happened to be eccentric. This alone caused him to be a suspect in a murder in the building where he was the landlord. Neither the actors nor the case under discussion may be familiar to Americans since the film and the actual events occurred in Britain in the town of Bristol.
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Scale of Justice - Wikimedia
Christopher Jefferies (Jason Watkins) was a retired schoolteacher in his sixties who led a private life. He owned three flats in an apartment complex, one of which he occupied. He rented the other two, and in addition, he was made the Chairman of the complex, which meant that he had keys and access to all flats in the building.
Christopher was regarded as reclusive, somewhat weird, who wore his grey hair in a comb-over and slightly long. He had a pedantic, snobbish way of speaking, a leftover from his 34 years of teaching. He tended to correct people’s spelling and grammar. He was referred to as Mr. Strange. He never married nor did he have any close relationships. It was his habit to visit the local bakery each morning to purchase their sourdough bread. He often came just as the bakery opened because the sourdough bread sold fast. He had an easy relationship with the clerk Janine (Anna Maxwell Martin) who sold him the bread.
One day, December 17, 2010, to be exact, Christopher could not get his car up the slope in the yard due to the surprising heavy snowfall. He asked a tenant, Vincent Tabak (Joe Sims) to help him to move his car which they did successfully.
A Tenant is Missing
The next morning, Christopher’s tenant, Greg (Matthew Barker) mentioned to Christopher that has girlfriend, Joanna Yeates (Carla Turner) had not come home last evening and he had not heard from her. Soon, a woman’s body was found on a golf course under the snow. Joanna had gone out with her girlfriends for Friday night drinks.
As her landlord, Christopher was questioned by the police and told him that late on the evening of December 17th, he heard someone leaving the gates. He heard voices, possibly two people. He was asked about Joanna’s fiancée, Greg, who was her roommate. Christopher said that Greg was pleasant and easygoing, cheerful, straightforward, and unvarnished. He was not intellectually sophisticated. Christopher had spent his whole life with academics. Greg was a fairly sporty sort of person.
Christopher is Arrested
The police arrested Christopher for the murder of Joanna Yeates, based only upon his eccentric appearance. They took his picture at the police station, got fingerprints and a DNA sample, and inspected his house, which they ransacked hugely. He was held for three days by detectives who questioned him unmercifully about his sexual interests. Christopher was able to hire a lawyer, Paul Okebu (Shaun Parkes), who believed in his innocence. He was even questioned about a similar cold case which had occurred several years before. Christopher characterized himself as a man who did not like arguments and was not violent. He described himself as methodical, and the police said wrongly that he called himself “meticulous.” No, he did not take heroin or cocaine. He usually had a half bottle of wine with his supper, and had not been drunk since he was a 19-year-old college student in 1963. He was not presently in a relationship and never had a permanent or long-lasting sexual relationship.
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Joe Sims - Wikimedia
Vincent Gives Negative Testimony
Vincent Tabak, the tenant who helped Christopher move his car from the slope, claimed that the car was facing inward that night and the next morning it was facing outward, indicating that Christopher could have used his car the night before. Christopher denied the accusation, stating that his car was facing outward when Vincent helped him, which allowed him to drive straight out.
Christopher is Released
Christopher insisted that he was 100% innocent in the involvement of the disappearance and death of Joanna Yeates. The police had to release him after three days, having no evidence that he had murdered Joanna Yeates. He returned to his flat, finding that it was ransacked and that a priceless book of his had the pages torn out.
The Tabloids Maligned Christopher
Christopher did not have a television set, and so he was unaware of the media coverage that had exploded. The newspapers referred to him as “The Nutty Professor.” Twelve tabloids manufactured lies about him to sensationalize their coverage. They spoke about his reputation as a “local weirdo” and attacked his character. Even after the police released Christopher, the papers continued to attack his character.
The True Killer is Found
DNA and forensic evidence identified Vincent Tabak as the killer. When he was confronted with the evidence, Vincent confessed to the murder. It was only then that the destructive media attention on Christopher subsided.
Christopher is Aided by His Tenant
One of Christopher’s tenants, Charles (Ben Caplan) was helpful to Christopher when he returned home. He did not want Christopher to go out and be harassed when he was recognized. Charles brought him some new shoes, jeans, an electric razor and some hairspray. Christopher looked at the newspapers which he had not seen before. He was accused of being a peeping tom, having a weird walk, and other negative innuendos. The papers said that no one at Clifton College remembered him although he had taught there for 34 years and half of his colleagues were still there.
Christopher Gets a New Look
Charles encouraged Christopher to cut his hair and to dye it so that he would not be recognized easily. The new look was appealing even though he was quite bald. The bakery clerk, Janine, saw him on the street and did not recognize him immediately. He was patronizing a different bakery. She then snubbed him and walked away.
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Shaun Parkes - Wikimedia
Christopher is Encouraged to Sue the Tabloids
Charles, as well as Christopher’s lawyer, Paul Okebu, encouraged Christopher to fight back and to sue the newspapers. He was hesitant about getting more media attention and was reluctant to do so. Charles persuaded him to hire an expert, Louis Charalambous (Peter Polycarpou) to sue the tabloids. A legal action of defamation could be successful. They managed to build a more balanced profile of Christopher, stating that he was clever, eccentric, and professional. He was considered a special teacher, but God help you if you were late. He invited students to his home for teaching, but never alone.
Christopher’s Libel Suit is Successful
Christopher did no go to the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice. He said he did not want to appear triumphant. He did not want his face all over the front pages again. He received a call from Charalambous. The allegations were entirely untrue. The tabloids accepted that they had seriously defamed Christopher, who had never so much as received a parking ticket. They agreed to pay substantial damages, the amount of which was not revealed. He also received a letter of exoneration from the police.
Vincent Tabak is Found Guilty
Vincent Tabak was found guilty of murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment. He showed no emotion, remorse, or regret.
Janine Apologizes to Christopher
Christopher met Janine on the street again. She told Christopher she owed him an apology on behalf of all of Bristol. She said she would be happy if he would come back to her shop. He would receive a loaf of bread every day for a month. Christopher said he would see her in the morning.