Jones has travelled to Bristol to recreate Yeates' final evening and put her own, er, unique talents to use, covering the story in a lightweight human interest style, in Is lovely Jo becoming just another thumbnail on the police website?. Right off the bat, from the very title, it's starting to go wrong. Yeates is one of the most high-profile adult murder victims of recent times. There are people dying all the time who don't get a mention in the national papers, much less the dizzying 24-hour coverage that Yeates' murder got.
It doesn't take long for Jones' peculiar obsession with class and social mobility to surface:
This is where Joanna Yeates spent her last evening before she set off up the hill, past all the twinkly shops and bars (a Habitat, a Space NK beauty emporium; Bristol is nothing if not upwardly mobile) towards her death.Yes, the real tragedy is that Yeates didn't even get to spend the evening of her violent death in a posh enough bar. You can rest assured that if Liz Jones ever gets strangled, her family will be able to take some comfort in the fact that she was no doubt yukking it up drinking overpriced cocktails in a pretentious London drinking hole before she met her end.
The bar is OK but ordinary. The wine list, chalked on a board, says ‘Lauren Perrier’.
I wish she had spent what were probably her last hours on earth somewhere lovelier.
You get the sense that the surroundings make it all the more tragic for Jones. She's not alone in this; it's common for papers to treat more middle-class victims of crime, or crime in 'upwardly mobile' areas, as more upsetting. These aren't council estate scumbags that might deserve it, these are people you could see at a cocktail party!
I walk past the beautiful university building on my right, with Waitrose on my left. I wander the bright aisles, full of young women rushing round after work, leaving with carrier bags and expectation.
I head up the hill towards Clifton, the leafy part of the city. It’s quieter now, and darker. I find Tesco, and go in. I almost buy that upmarket pizza; the choice tells me Jo wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary.
There's almost a flicker of emotion in whatever passes for Jones' heart here; this girl wanted a slightly more expensive pizza. If Liz Jones ate a pizza, she would probably choose a more expensive one too. Isn't that profound? That connection? Doesn't it make you want to weep, just a little? This could have happened to our favourite self-absorbed newspaper columnist! What then? What would we do?
Jones talks to some police officers:
I tell them I’m spooked, walking here. ‘Don’t be spooked,’ one says. ‘Residents are campaigning to get brighter street lights installed.’ So the antique, lovely ones are to disappear to be replaced by ugly ones because of something even uglier.It just gets worse, doesn't it? I mean, the murder is one thing. But the ramifications of it are severe. What if we lose the pretty antique street lights? What might that do to house prices? I can barely bring myself to consider the horror.
Jones then wonders why other, perhaps local, drivers, aren't slowing down to gawp at Yeates' house, like she has done. Don't they respect Jo Yeates? It's almost like they have somewhere they need to get to, as if they don't get paid handsomely to mooch about waiting for material for their pointless articles.
Towards the end, Jones uses all her skill as a writer to haul her own petty problems into the story, and connect them thoughtfully.
My satnav takes me to the Clifton Suspension Bridge.Never mind Jo Yeates; when are they going to come up with a toll bridge that accepts designer buttons, for those of us too classy to carry small change? Then follows possibly the weirdest paragraph I have ever read in a national newspaper column. Jones attempts to find some kind of poignancy in this moment of personal awkwardness. Is there a way we can link toll bridges refusing to accept designer buttons with the tragic murder of a young woman? Liz Jones can find a way, sort of:
The theory is the killer took the long route from the flat to where he dumped the body to avoid the CCTV cameras. Perhaps he also wanted to avoid the 50p toll.
I don’t have 50p and try tossing 30p and a White Company button into the bucket. It doesn’t work.
There is now an angry queue behind me. Isn’t it interesting that you can snatch a young woman’s life away from her in the most violent, painful, frightening way possible, take away her future children, her future Christmases, take away everything she loves, and yet there are elaborate systems in place to ensure you do not cross a bridge for only 30 pence?Well...no. No, that isn't interesting. It's irrelevant, facile and absurd. Bridge tolls are no more relevant to this murder than the tooth fairy is. There is no sad irony, no lingering meaning to be found here. Are you proposing a system where murder is given a prohibitively expensive pre-paid toll? You just drove onto a toll bridge without having enough cash. Stop it.
Luckily, fortune favours the vacuous, and Liz Jones is suddenly presented with a convenient get-out, not just of her toll bridge nightmare, but of the article, as a man, who I shall call Mr Deus Ex Machina, helpfully gives her both fifty pence and a neat feed line to set up her finale:
Finally, a man in a taxi jumps out, and runs to me brandishing a 50p piece.[Applause]
‘Not all men are monsters,’ he says, grinning. Maybe not. But one monster is all it takes.
Perhaps the real story is about Bristol's omniscient taxi drivers/users; men who can sense what a journalist is writing about and offer forth convenient set-up lines, despite not formally being given any context to do so. I hope Liz Jones' next article is about that.