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Yeates murder: landlord Christopher Jefferies 'unfairly targeted'

A friend of Christopher Jefferies, the retired English master arrested on suspicion of murdering Joanna Yeates, has defended him claiming he is the victim of circumstantial evidence.

Geoffrey Hardyman, 78, who has known Mr Jefferies for more than 40 years and lives in the same building, said the police had “pounced” on the 65-year-old because they needed a suspect.

Mr Jefferies, who was Miss Yeates’s landlord, was arrested a week ago after allegedly telling neighbours he had seen the 25-year-old landscape architect outside her flat with two other people on the night she disappeared.

He later appeared to change his story and was arrested at his home just after 6.30am last Thursday.

But he was released on police bail on New Year’s Day after three days of questioning.

Mr Hardyman, who was a colleague of Mr Jefferies at the nearby Clifton College public school and also lives in a flat at 44 Canynge Road, said he believed his friend had been unfairly targeted by the police.

He said: "I felt, as it's a high profile case, the police felt they had to pounce on someone. Because of circumstantial evidence, they thought he was a good suspect.”

Mr Hardyman insisted Mr Jefferies had not acted suspiciously in any way after Miss Yeates’s disappearance.

He said: "I think I spoke to him about twice and he appeared 100 per cent normal. We didn't discuss the subject. He was not one for great conversation."

Mr Jefferies is currently at an undisclosed address while police continue to carry out forensic examinations at his flat which is two floors above where Miss Yeates lived with her boyfriend Greg Reardon.

Detectives also seized two vehicles, which were thought to belong to Mr Jefferies – a silver Chrysler Neon and a grey Volvo S40.But Mr Hardyman said Jefferies was actually looking after one of the cars for a friend.

He said the car actually belonged to 65-year-old Irving Steggles, who now works as a church minister in South Africa.

Mr Hardyman said: "He asked Chris to look after his Chrysler and run it when he was away.

"The car was always parked on the road. When this man came back to visit he wanted his car available. He's been looking after the car three or four years.”

He added that he had no idea where Mr Jefferies was at the moment.

He said: “No one has heard from Chris since police released him. We don't know when he might be back - we've heard it might be the weekend.”

Meanwhile lawyers acting for Mr Jefferies expressed concern over whether their client could ultimately receive a fair trial should he ever be charged.

Rhys Mardon, of London-based Stokoe Partnership, who acted on Mr Jefferies' behalf during interview with detectives, said: "His name has been blackened and his privacy invaded. This may ultimately prejudice his right to, and any prospect of, a fair trial."