THE VICTORIAN house on Lower Park Road in the East Sussex seaside town of Hastings has recently undergone a transformation. Both front and back gardens have been given a smart makeover.
Some 250 miles away in a cell in Wakefield high security prison in West Yorkshire lives the home's former owner, Sion Jenkins. He too is hoping for a fresh start.
It was at the back of the semi-detached property in February 1997 that a crime was committed which caused national revulsion and led to Jenkins becoming one of the country's most vilified figures.
The deputy headteacher was convicted in July 1998 of bludgeoning his 13-year-old foster daughter, Billie-Jo, with a metal tent peg in a fit of rage. He was sentenced to life for the murder.
But nearly six years after the trial, startling new evidence is beginning to emerge which raises disturbing questions about Jenkins' guilt, and which could lead to his acquittal later this year.
The Court of Appeal has ordered a new investigation into the actions of a mentally ill man who was the police's first suspect for the murder. Lawyers for Jenkins have also obtained expert forensic analysis that challenges the prosecution's key evidence about bloodstains found on the teacher.
The third plank of the Court of Appeal challenge by Jenkins' legal team is two of his daughters, who the defence claim can provide their father with an alibi. They will be cross-examined and will give live evidence for the first time at the appeal hearing later this year. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice, referred the case to the Court of Appeal last year after re- examining the evidence given at the trial, and the fresh evidence produced by the defence.
Nevertheless the police are adamant that they got the right man and the Crown Prosecution Service will be defending the conviction in court.
If Jenkins were to be freed at the hearing, which is expected to take place in the summer, it will be hugely controversial and lead to the obvious question: if he did not murder Billie-Jo, then who did?
The brutality and apparent randomness of a crime committed by a churchgoer and a respected member of the community shocked the nation. At his trial in Lewes Crown Court, the jury heard that Billie-Jo's body was discovered on the patio at the back of the family home, where she lived with her foster family: Sion, his wife Lois, a social worker, and their four daughters.
The prosecution successfully argued that Jenkins, now 46, had returned to the house in the afternoon of Saturday 15 February 1997 with two of his daughters, Annie and Lottie.
He entered the house, where Billie-Jo had been painting the patio doors, and in an uncontrollable rage bludgeoned her death. He then took his two daughters out to a DIY store in order to create a false alibi for himself. On their return to the house he found the body and called 999 for help.
The prosecution was unable to suggest any reason why Jenkins might have committed the murder, although after his conviction it emerged that he had struck out at his wife on a number of occasions and had once kicked his stepdaughter. The police suggested that he simply lost his temper, possibly provoked by Billie-Jo playing loud music.
The crucial forensic evidence against Jenkins at his trial was the discovery of 158 microscopic bloodspots on his clothing. A forensic scientist successfully argued that the thin mist of droplets was created as Jenkins swung the 18in tent peg, striking his foster daughter at least nine times.
Jenkins' legal team challenged the forensic evidence in an appeal in 1999, but the court rejected the challenge. Since then, fresh evidence has emerged following inquiries by the defence team, headed by the lawyer Neil O'May, and investigators from the CCRC.
One of the principal issues surrounds a paranoid schizophrenic man who had been seen sitting in a park within eight minutes' walk of the murder scene at the time of Billie-Jo's death. …