Murder of Joanna Yeates

Murder of Joanna Yeates
Joanna Clare "Jo" Yeates

Graduation photo of Joanna Yeates
Born Joanna Clare Yeates
Hampshire, England, UK[1]
Disappeared 17 December 2010
Bristol, England, UK
Died 17 December 2010 (aged 25)
Cause of death Strangulation
Body discovered 25 December 2010(2010-12-25)
Failand, Somerset, UK
Resting place 11 February 2011, St Mark's Church,
Ampfield, Hampshire, UK
Residence Clifton, Bristol, UK
Nationality British
Alma mater Writtle College
University of Gloucestershire
Occupation Landscape architect[2]
Employer Building Design Partnership[3]
Known for Murder victim
Home town Romsey, Hampshire, UK[4]
Height 5 ft 4 in (163 cm)[5]
Partner Greg Reardon
Parents David and Teresa Yeates[3]

Joanna Clare "Jo" Yeates (1985 – 17 December 2010) was a 25-year-old landscape architect from Hampshire, England, who went missing on 17 December 2010 in Bristol after an evening out with colleagues. Her body was discovered on 25 December 2010 in Failand, North Somerset; post-mortem analysis determined that she had died from strangulation.[6] Vincent Tabak was eventually found guilty of her murder.[7]

The murder inquiry, named "Operation Braid", became one of the largest police investigations in the Bristol area.[6] The case dominated news coverage in the United Kingdom as Yeates' family reached out through social network services and press conferences for assistance from the public.[1] Rewards totalling £60,000 were offered for information leading to those responsible for Yeates' death.[8] The police initially suspected Yeates' landlord, who lives in the same building, and arrested him, but soon released him on bail.

Vincent Tabak, a 32-year-old Dutch engineer and neighbour of Yeates, was arrested on 20 January 2011. Media attention at the time centred on the filming of a re-enactment of her disappearance for the BBC's programme, Crimewatch.[9] After two days of questioning, he was charged on 22 January 2011 with Yeates' murder.[10][11] On 5 May 2011, Tabak, aged 33, pleaded guilty to Yeates's manslaughter, but denied murdering her.[12] On 20 September he appeared at Bristol Crown Court for a pre-trial hearing, attending in person having previously appeared from prison via videolink.[13] His trial started on 4 October 2011.[14] Tabak was found guilty of murder on 28 October 2011, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a tariff of 20 years.[7]

The Daily Mirror and The Sun were found guilty of contempt of court for reporting information that could prejudice a trial. The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Record, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and The Scotsman were also successfully sued for libel over their coverage of the arrest of Yeates' landlord.[15] The prosecutions added weight to proposed legislation being discussed in Parliament by MP Anna Soubry to prohibit the naming of suspects prior to the formal filing of charges. She withdrew the proposal on 4 February after the government opposed it.[16][17]


Joanna Yeates

Joanna Clare Yeates was born in 1985 in Hampshire, England.[2][1] She was privately educated at Embley Park near Romsey. Yeates studied for her A-levels at Peter Symonds College and graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Writtle College.[18] She received her Master's degree in landscape architecture at University of Gloucestershire.[19]

In December 2008, Yeates met then-25-year-old fellow landscape architect Greg Reardon,[20] at the firm Hyland Edgar Driver in Winchester. The couple moved in together in 2009 and settled in Clifton, Bristol when the company relocated to that area.[2] Yeates later moved jobs to work at the Building Design Partnership in Bristol.[8]

Murder case


The Bristol Ram pub, where Yeates was last seen by her colleagues.[21]

At around 8.00 pm on 19 December 2010, Reardon returned home from a weekend visit to Sheffield to find Yeates absent from their flat on Canynge Road, Clifton. Reardon had been trying to contact her by phone and text, but did not find it "completely out of character" that she did not respond. While waiting for Yeates to return home, Reardon found that her personal items had been left behind and that their cat appeared to have been neglected.[1][22] When he tried to call her again, her mobile phone rang from a pocket of her coat at the flat.[23] Around midnight, Reardon contacted the police and then Yeates' parents to report her missing.[1]

Investigators determined that Yeates had spent the evening of 17 December 2010 with colleagues at the Bristol Ram pub on Park Street, leaving around 8.00 pm to make the 20-minute walk home.[21][24] She reportedly told friends and colleagues that she was looking forward to spending the weekend alone while baking and shopping for Christmas.[18] Yeates was spotted on closed-circuit television (CCTV) at around 8.10 pm in a Waitrose supermarket without purchasing anything.[1] She then phoned her best friend, Rebecca Scott, at 8.30 pm to arrange a meeting on Christmas Eve.[6] The last known footage of Yeates recorded her buying a pizza from a Tesco Express that evening at around 8.40 pm.[25] She had also picked up two small bottles of cider at a Bargain Booze nearby.[4]

Two bottles of cider that Yeates purchased at this Bargain Booze in Bristol were later found in her flat.[26]

Search and public appeal

Reardon and Yeates' friends set up a website and used social network services to help look for her.[1][8] On 21 December 2010, Yeates' parents and Reardon made a public appeal through a police press conference for her safe return.[27] In another press conference broadcast live on 23 December 2010 via Sky News and BBC News, Yeates' father David commented on her disappearance: "I think she was abducted after getting home to her flat ... I have no idea of the circumstances of the abduction because of what was left behind ... I feel sure she would not have gone out by herself leaving all these things behind and she was taken away somewhere".[28] Her keys, phone, purse and coat were left behind at her flat.[29] Detectives retrieved a receipt for a pizza, but found no sign of the pizza itself nor its packaging.[30] Both bottles of cider were found in the flat, one of them partially consumed.[4] As there was no evidence of forced entry or a struggle,[29] investigators began to pursue the scenario that Yeates may have known her abductor.[30]

Discovery of body

Bristol is located in Somerset
Yeates' body was found in Failand, eight days after she was last seen alive in Bristol.[6]

On 25 December 2010, a fully clothed body was found in the snow by a couple walking their dogs along Longwood Lane near a golf course and next to the entrance of a quarry in Failand, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) from her home.[4][6][31] The body was identified by police as that of Yeates.[3] Reardon and the Yeates family visited the site of the discovery on 27 December 2010.[21] David Yeates said that the family "had been told to prepare for the worst" and expressed relief that his daughter's body had been recovered.[32] Grief counselling was offered to Yeates' co-workers to help them cope with her death.[33] Funeral arrangements were delayed as investigators wished to retain the body "for a while".[6] The pathologist Dr Nat Carey consented to the release of the body of the deceased on 31 January 2011.[34]


The investigation, called "Operation Braid",[35] comprised 80 detectives and civilian staff under the direction of Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones. It became one of the largest police operations in the history of the Avon & Somerset Constabulary jurisdiction.[36] Jones urged the public to come forward with any information to help catch the killer, especially from potential witnesses who were in the vicinity of Longwood Lane in Failand during Yeates' disappearance.[33] He stated that the investigation was seeking the driver of a "light-coloured 4x4 vehicle" for questioning.[37]

Jones said that officers had been "inundated with thousands of calls" and are "exhausting every lead and avenue that we are provided with."[38] Police were examining over 100 hours of surveillance footage along with 293 tonnes of rubbish seized from the area around Yeates' flat.[39] Refuse collection had been suspended in that part of Clifton since 23 December 2010.[40] Crime Stoppers offered a £10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her murderer.[41] Authorities advised residents to take precautions and warned local women not to walk alone after dark.[42]

I fear that whoever has done this will never hand themselves in, but we live in hope that the police will catch who is responsible.
—David Yeates, December 2010[6]

Post-mortem and initial enquiries

Clifton Suspension Bridge Avon Bridge
Police examined surveillance video from Clifton Suspension Bridge (left), and were aware that Avon Bridge (right) could have been used to avoid CCTV coverage.[43][44]

Detectives from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary immediately treated Yeates' death as "suspicious",[45] and investigated similarities with the unsolved cases of Glenis Carruthers, Melanie Hall and Claudia Lawrence.[46][47][48][49] The possibility of such connections has since been downplayed by authorities.[38] The police gathered surveillance video from Clifton Suspension Bridge as it is the most direct route across the Avon Gorge between the crime scene and where Yeates was last seen alive.[45] The poor quality of much of the footage was unable to clearly distinguish individuals or car registration numbers.[50] Investigators are also aware that the perpetrator could have used an alternative bridge across the River Avon less than a mile to the south to avoid CCTV coverage.[43][44]

A post-mortem examination began on 26 December 2010, though results were delayed due to the frozen condition of the body.[51] Police initially thought it possible that Yeates froze to death in the winter outdoors as her body showed no visible signs of injury.[52] Investigators announced on 28 December 2010 that the case had become a murder inquiry as the coroner determined that Yeates had died by strangulation.[53] The post-mortem also indicated that she had died "several days before being discovered" on 25 December 2010.[54] The examination also confirmed that Yeates did not eat the pizza she had purchased.[55] Detective Chief Inspector Jones stated that the investigation found "no evidence to suggest that Joanna was sexually assaulted".[37] The police searched Reardon's laptop computer and mobile phone as part of standard procedure.[54] Reardon was ruled out as a suspect and is being treated as a witness.[53]

A young woman attending a party at a neighbouring home on Canynge Road on the night of Yeates' disappearance recalled hearing two loud screams shortly after 9.00 pm from the direction of Yeates' flat.[56] Another neighbour who lived behind Yeates' home said that he heard a high-pitched woman's voice scream "Help me".[57] Officers removed the front door to Yeates' flat to check for clothing fibres and DNA evidence.[41][58] Investigators were examining the possibility that the perpetrator was already inside the flat when Yeates returned home.[59]

Further enquiries

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. Senior officers from the investigation had asked for assistance from the National Policing Improvement Agency, a centre which provides expertise for difficult cases.[60] Jones stated that his officers were checking through 1,300 tips and pieces of information from the public and have established over 1,000 lines of inquiry, 239 of them considered "high priority".[36][61]

I can assure you, we are determined to solve this crime and bring Jo's killers to justice. No stone will be left unturned.
—Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones, January 2011[61]

On 5 January 2011, Detective Chief Inspector Jones announced that Yeates was missing one of her socks when she was found dead and it was not found at the crime scene nor in her home. Jones stated that the sock was a long, ski-style size five.[62] Psychologist Glenn Wilson, who is not associated with the police investigation, commented that the killer might have used the sock to strangle Yeates or kept it as a trophy.[63] Hours after the press conference, an elderly man turned in a sock for police evidence.[64] However, the dark sock was not believed to match the one sought by investigators.[65] Another piece of evidence that police were investigating was a pizza label with a note mentioning Yeates that was received by the Bristol Ram pub on 27 December 2010, after her body was found.[66] Investigators determined the note to be a hoax as the label was not from Tesco, and stated, "We take any reports of information in relation to this inquiry seriously."[67]

Police launched a national advertising campaign to appeal for witnesses through Facebook,[68] which had been viewed nearly 250,000 times since 4 January 2011. CCTV footage of Yeates had been viewed 120,000 times on YouTube.[63] The Sun offered a £50,000 reward to "bring a longed-for breakthrough" in the case.[69]

On 9 January 2011, Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy endorsed the idea of a public DNA screening process if the police would find it useful. The Avon and Somerset Constabulary had previously conducted mass DNA screening during the 1995 investigation into the disappearance of then-18-year-old Louise Smith. McCarthy suggested that the screening process should be extended beyond Clifton to the wider Bristol area.[70][71] Saliva that had been found on Yeates' body was tested for a potential DNA profile.[72] Detectives arranged to interview up to 20 out of the 924 registered sex offenders living within the jurisdiction of the force.[73]

First arrest and release

On 30 December 2010 Yeates' landlord, Chris Jeffries, who lives in the same building, was arrested shortly after 7.00 am on suspicion of Yeates' murder and was taken to a local police station for questioning while forensic investigators inspected his flat.[74] Investigators were granted a 12-hour extension on 31 December for additional questioning,[75] and released him on bail the following day.[76] On release he retained the legal services of Stokoe Partnership to assist in clearing his name.[77] On 4 March 2011, Yeates' landlord was released from bail and the police stated he was no longer a suspect.[78][79] Jeffries was paid a "substantial" undisclosed sum in libel damages by eight tabloid newspapers in July 2011 after over 40 defamatory articles were published following his arrest.[80]

Crime reconstruction and second arrest

In January 2011, a dramatic reconstruction of the case was filmed on location in Bristol for broadcast in the 26 January edition of Crimewatch.[55] A 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.[81] Within 24 hours of news coverage about the production on 18 January, over 300 people contacted the police.[82] A breakthrough led investigators to believe that Yeates' body may have been transported in a large holdall or suitcase.[83]

On the morning of 20 January, the Avon and Somerset Constabulary arrested a 32-year-old man,[84] who was detained at an undisclosed location.[84] At first the authorities declined to reveal additional details while the suspect was being interrogated due to concerns over past media coverage.[85] The arrest reportedly followed an anonymous tip from a female caller, hours after a televised appeal by Yeates' parents on the Crimewatch programme.[86] Canynge Road was closed by police while scaffolding was constructed around Yeates' home;[82] officers sealed off the adjacent flat of 32-year-old Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak.[87][88] Investigators also searched the nearby townhouse of a friend, where Tabak was believed to have been staying, about a mile away.[89] Tabak had previously been ruled out as a suspect during an earlier stage of the investigation, and had returned to England from a holiday trip visiting his family in the Netherlands.[90]

Following Tabak's arrest, the BBC cancelled its plans to air the Yeates re-enactment on Crimewatch.[91] On 31 January, Yeates' family publicly released photos of her that previously had been scheduled to be broadcast on the programme.[92]

Vincent Tabak was moved out of Bristol Prison for his safety.[93]

Murder charge

After questioning during 96 hours of detention, Tabak was charged on 22 January with the murder of Joanna Yeates. He made a brief appearance at Bristol Magistrates' Court on 24 January and was remanded in custody.[94] Tabak, who was legally represented by Paul Cook, declined to request bail during a subsequent hearing on the following day. Tabak was moved from Bristol Prison because of fears for his safety.[93] He was placed under suicide watch at Long Lartin Prison near Evesham, where staff were ordered to check on him every 30 minutes throughout the day and night. Tabak's family and friends in the Netherlands started to raise a fund for his defence in court.[95]

Entering plea

On 5 May 2011, Vincent Tabak pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Yeates, but denied murdering her.[96] Tabak's guilty plea was rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service.[97][96] On 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.[13]


The trial of Vincent Tabak started on 4 October 2011.[14] Tabak pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but denied murder, and claimed that the killing had not been sexually motivated.[98] He 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 take a drink with her. He said that when she screamed he held his hand over her mouth and around her neck in an attempt to silence her. The prosecution case was that Yeates had resisted him, and would have been in great pain, although Tabak denied there was a struggle.

On 28 October 2011 Tabak was found guilty of Joanna Yeates' murder by the jury which convicted him by a majority of 10 to 2. He was jailed for life, with a tariff term of 20 years. His counsel in the trial was William Clegg QC. In passing sentence at Bristol Crown Court, Mr Justice Field referred to a "sexual element" to the killing.[7]

Media coverage

Jo's life was cut short tragically but the finger-pointing and character assassination by social and news media of as yet innocent men has been shameful.

Greg Reardon, 1 January 2011[99]

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General for England and Wales, stated on 31 December 2010 that he was contemplating taking action under the Contempt of Court Act to remind the media of their obligation not to prejudice a possible future trial.[75] Criminology professor David Wilson commented on the resonance of the murder case with the national news media: "The British public loves a whodunnit ... It's a particularly British thing. We were the first nation to use murder stories to sell newspapers and that culture is more ingrained here than elsewhere."[100] Wilson called Yeates, a white female professional, an "ideal victim" for the media.[100]

Following a television news report on 4 January 2011, that criticised the handling of the investigation, ITN reporters were banned by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary from attending a press conference convened to give updates on the murder case.[101] ITN accused the police of attempting "to censor what information we can broadcast" while the constabulary filed a complaint with the Office of Communications, calling the broadcast "unfair, naïve and irresponsible reporting".[102] The police have since lifted the sanctions against ITN, but said that they would "not hesitate to adopt similar tactics in the future."[69] Legal action was also considered over a Tweet revealing that Tabak had viewed internet pornography of erotic asphyxiation and bondage.[103]

On 12 May 2011, the High Court of England and Wales granted the Attorney General permission to bring a case for contempt against The Sun and the Daily Mirror for the way they had reported on the arrest of Yeates' landlord, Chris Jefferies.[104][105] On 29 July, the Court ruled that both newspapers had been in contempt of court, fining the Daily Mirror £50,000 and The Sun £18,000.[106] On the same day, Jefferies accepted "substantial" damages for defamation from eight newspapers in connection with articles relating to his arrest.[106]

In an interview following Tabak's conviction, Jefferies commented: "It has taken up a whole year virtually of my life, that period of time has meant that everything else that I would normally be doing has been in abeyance." He also criticised the government's plans to change the law on legal aid, which he said would prevent people with limited means from taking action against newspapers.[107]


Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke examined a private member's bill that would impose a six-month sentence on any journalist who names a suspect who has not yet been charged.[108] The legislation was introduced into the House of Commons in June 2010, i.e. before the murder, by Anna Soubry of Broxtowe, who is herself a former journalist and criminal law barrister.[109] Both Labour and Conservative MPs criticised the press coverage. Mike Freer, referring to "the landlord in Bristol", said "it was the castigation, the crawling over of that gentleman's background, the questioning of his looks, his eccentricity and his sexuality that were abhorrent and that will follow him around for ever."[110] Soubry replied "What we saw in Bristol was, in effect, a feeding frenzy and vilification. Much of the coverage was not only completely irrelevant, but there was a homophobic tone to it which I found deeply offensive. The slurs on the man were out of order."[110] Robert Flello said that many members had alluded to "the media's dreadful treatment of her landlord". The shameful way in which that man was portrayed in the press-from "weird-looking" to "strange", and with questions raised about his sexuality, his teaching practices and even his hairstyle-should embarrass and shame our media.[111]

However, Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, countered that the news media functions as a "great control on potential abuse by the police".[16] Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors said that "this cure is far worse than the disease" and would lead to "speculation during criminal inquiries and great unfairness."[108] Satchwell, citing the example of people who disappeared under Latin American dictators, argued that the ability to name suspects serves to protect them by drawing out new evidence.[108] The bill failed to complete its second reading but Crispin Blunt promised the Attorney General would examine the area of concern.[109] [112]

Aftermath and memorials

Christ Church, Clifton Down St Mark's Church, Ampfield
A memorial service for Yeates was held at Christ Church (left) in Clifton and she was buried in the yard of St Mark's Church near Ampfield.[113][114]

Associate Vicar Dan Clark led a memorial service for Yeates at Christ Church in Clifton on 2 January 2011.[113] Her boyfriend, Greg Reardon, started a charity website in Yeates' memory to raise funds on behalf of families of missing people.[115] Yeates' employers, Building Design Partnership, and the local NHS trust plan to commemorate her with a memorial in a garden she had been designing for a new £430 million hospital in Southmead, Bristol.[83][116] Other planned memorials include a garden of remembrance at the BDP firm's studio in Bristol, a published anthology of Yeates' work, and an annual landscape design prize named in her memory for students of the University of Gloucestershire, where she had once studied. BDP will dedicate a charity cycle ride between its offices on its 50th anniversary, with proceeds to go towards charities selected by her family.[117] Yeates left behind an estate valued at £47,000, which included an amount set aside to purchase a home with Reardon. As she had not written a will, the sum will be inherited by her parents.[118]

Following the release of her body on 31 January 2011,[34] Yeates' family arranged to hold her funeral at St Mark's of Ampfield, Hampshire and have her interred in the churchyard.[119] Yeates was buried on 11 February, with about 300 people attending the service led by Vicar Peter Gilks.[114]


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