The British Girls

The British girls who testified at the trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were Sophie Purton, Robyn Butterworth, Amy Frost, Samantha Rodenhurst, Natalie Hayward, Helen Powell and Jade Bidwell. The girls were a mix of acquaintances, classmates and friends of Meredith Kercher who in some cases barely knew her and in other cases had become close friends who socialized with Meredith at a pub called “Merlin’s” over a 6 week period.

By the time they testified at the Massei trial in 2009, they were collectively described as “the British girls” and their tid bits of trivial college girl gossip about Amanda Knox was reported around the world. The girls are largely responsible for the “strange behavior” meme and some were seriously hostile character witnesses who were repeatedly impeached by defense attorneys.

Introduction

Meredith Kercher's friends
Sophie Purton, Robyn Butterworth, Amy Frost, Samantha Rodenhurst, Natalie Hayward, Helen Powell and Jane Bidwell arriving to court to testify February 13, 2009.

When someone you know is accused of a serious crime, you immediately reassess everything you think you know about them. If you scarcely know them, you will probably go along with whatever the police and prosecution says. If you know them well, you may be surprised. You may even know them so well that you refuse to believe that the accusations could be true.

Even under the best of circumstances, an accusation of criminal behavior inevitably exposes the defendant to a whole host of unfair and difficult to overcome risks. One of the most significant is confirmation bias on the part of a criminal justice system’s various parties — police, prosecutors, witnesses, jurors and judges. While confirmation bias can affect the actions and deliberations of each of those parties, it is particularly consequential with respect to witnesses. Once tainted by confirmation bias, a witnesses’ actual recollection of events often changes — things that seemed innocuous and insignificant at the time take on new and imagined nefarious meaning once the witness comes to believe that the defendant in question probably committed the crime they stand accused of.

In the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, not only did the innocent defendants suffer the crippling consequences of spurious police accusations, but almost worse, once those accusations were leveled, the prejudicial impact of the resulting expectation of guilt was turbo-charged by international media outlets that were intent upon exploiting the sensationalized narrative of Knox as a depraved seductress and drug-addled, sex-obsessed murderess.

One of the persistent memes throughout the trials was that Kercher didn’t like Knox and that in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of Kercher’s body, Knox seemed chillingly indifferent to her roommate’s death. The source of this perception was chiefly the statements and court testimony of Meredith’s friends. One after another Giuliano Mignini asked them if they saw Knox crying at the police station. The answer was no, they didn’t. However the testimony of Luca Altieri was that Knox ‘burst into tears’ when he told her how Meredith died on the way to the police station.

When originally interviewed by police, these women, who barely knew Knox, had little to say about her. However, after Knox was accused of murdering their friend and salacious news reports began to emerge that characterized Knox as the killer, their stories changed with respect to their impressions of her character, her behavior and the nature of her friendship with Meredith. Now she suddenly struck them as odd, manipulating and callous. Consisting of little more than trivial college girl gossip, their opinions, hearsay and innuendo about Knox was picked up by the media and telegraphed around the world, further reinforcing and even enhancing the expectation of guilt that had formed.

During the 2009 trial, the only substantive information the British girls offered was:

1) Where Meredith was on November 1 before returning home – at Amy Frost and Robyn Butterworth’s apartment between 4.30pm and 8.45pm.

2) What Meredith ate for dinner – pizza with vegetable topping and apple crumble. No alcohol was consumed.

3) What Meredith was wearing – light blue jeans and a blue Adidas tracksuit top.

4) What they did – watched the movie “The Notebook”.

5) None saw Meredith talking to Rudy Guede or any black guys on Halloween.

Below is a closer examination of their statements and testimony.

Statements and Testimony

Sophie Purton

Sophie Purton was the last person to see Meredith Kercher alive and walked her part of the way home on November 1. Purton testified they left Butterworth and Frost’s apartment around 8.45pm.[1] In her first statement to police on November 2, Purton said: “I know that Meredith sometimes went to a venue called “Le Chic” in the center of Perugia, where her friend Amanda works, she is American, and lives in the same house.”

Purton in her next statement to police on November 3 introduced the “Amanda brought strange men home to the cottage” myth which was leaked to media on November 8, first appearing in Corriere Della Sera then picked up by the Daily Mail who reported Knox “brought men home to the cottage for sex”. The lie lingered for years. Purton also opined about Knox’s sex life telling police she thought Knox had slept with Spyros Gatsios who worked at an internet cafe. This was false.

Purton’s statements about Hicham Khiri lead to him becoming a suspect who was brought in for questioning at 2am on November 4 for approximately 2 hours. He was further questioned later that day, as well as his housemate and an alibi witness on November 5.

Purton left Perugia and returned to the UK on November 7.[2] She never studied or lived in Italy again after the murder but returned to Perugia to collect her possessions a few weeks later.[3] In February of 2008, Purton visited Frost and Butterworth in Bergamo and made another statement to police.[4] Purton testified Amanda and Meredith “had a good relationship” and she had never heard of any fights or significant problems between them.[5] 

PM Mignini: Listen, can you remember the things she said, what the relationship was between Meredith and Amanda?
Sophie Purton: I would say they had a good relationship but there were a few things that bothered Meredith, but I don’t believe they had many disagreements or arguments. Meredith just indicated some awkwardness she had with her.

Robyn Butterworth

Amanda Knox's beauty case on the floor in the shared bathroom
According to Butterworth the beauty case on the floor made Meredith “feel a bit uncomfortable” Really?

Robyn Butterworth testified to the following:

  • Meredith regularly used the brown purse seen on her bed in the crime scene photos;[6]
  • She loaned Meredith a book to study on November 1 about English medieval history;[7]
  • She was suppose to meet Meredith at 10am on November 2 and began texting and calling when Meredith didn’t turn up;[8]
  • At first the phone rang then was out of range;[9]
  • She learned a girl had been murdered via Sophie Purton;[10]
  • Raffaele told her at the police station that Amanda had spent the previous night at his house;[11]
  • Meredith and Amanda “often went to the pub Le Chic” and visited her apartment after they had been to the chocolate festival.[12]

Dalla Vedova: Do you remember other times Amanda and Meredith went out together?
Robyn Butterworth: Yes, at the beginning, when they started living together, they often went to the Pub Le Chic and then I remember they also went to the chocolate festival because they came to my house after.
Judge Massei: Those two together or together with other people?
Robyn Butterworth: I never went therefore I think they went with the guys from downstairs, I think they went out for dinner a few times, some times. I wasn’t there but remember one time they went to a discotec called Red Zone.

Robyn Butterworth made a statement to police on November 2 and returned to the UK on November 3 to be with family. Butterworth made another statement to UK police on November 4 which was leaked to the Daily Mail on November 15. Butterworth also reported the gossip about the cleaning of the shared bathroom. Butterworth testified that in the middle of October after watching a rugby match, Meredith showed her Amanda Knox’s beauty case in the bathroom and said Meredith “felt a bit uncomfortable” with the contents.[13] The beauty case can be seen in the crime scene photos on the floor in the bathroom and despite being clear, you can’t really see much other than it’s filled with things.

Amy Frost

Amy Frost twice told police in her witness statement on November 2 that Amanda Knox was a friend of Meredith saying: “I know that Meredith sometimes went to a venue called “Le Chic” in the center of Perugia, where her friend Amanda works, she is American, and lives in the same house.” And “I have been to Meredith’s home only once or twice and I only went there to get books for studying, the last time I went there was around a fortnight ago because we went all together with her friends who live on the floor underneath her and with her friend Amanda, to a discotheque called REDZONE.”

By the time Frost gave testimony at the Massei trial, her account had been fleshed out and she was a hostile character witness, reporting her conversations with Meredith about Knox. Indeed, before this testimony, but after her initial witness statement, she also gave a statement to police in Bergamo and later, when she returned to England, telephoned Interpol to report that Meredith had keys to the downstairs apartment. A British police officer visited her at home in Derby to take a statement about this.[14] Amy Frost testified she had met Amanda twice. Frost answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” 21 times when testifying.

Frost tried to deny Meredith said anything nice about Amanda but was impeached and referred to her February 2008 statement.

Luciano Ghirga: Yes. She never said that phrase to the police, to the prosecutor, whoever it was, “Meredith said that Amanda was nice and friendly”? Those two words, if you remember that Meredith said them of Amanda? If they were ever reported.
Amy Frost: No, not really, I don’t remember.
Luciano Ghirga: Then, just for a historical fact, your honor, on page 12 of that statement of February 8, 2008, answering questions of a police officer and after the translation it says that “Amanda arrived … and Meredith said that ‘she is nice and friendly” also referring to the beginning, but she uses these two …
Judge Massei: Perhaps we could read it, counsel?
Luciano Ghirga: “When Amanda came to Perugia for the first time I was in England. When I returned from England I learned that the American girl had arrived in Meredith’s house and then I asked Meredith how … and I also asked Sophie.. ” I imagine “…how was this girl and Meredith said ‘she is nice and friendly,’” end of quotation. Do you remember these two words?
Interpreter: If you want them translated well I need to read it.
Judge Massei: Counsel has read from the previously made statements by the witness from which it would appear that Meredith was describing Amanda with these adjectives, “nice and friendly”
Amy Frost: Perhaps I said that, I said that Meredith told us these things in the early days, but I think that later she would not have said anything of the kind.

Samantha Rodenhurst

Samantha Rodenhurst left Perugia and returned to England on November 4.[15] Rodenhurst gave interviews to Channel 5 and CBS News.[16] Rodenhurst was impeached when asked if she cried at the police station on November 2. She claimed she did but in February 2008 said she didn’t.

Defense Rocchi: Did you cry on that occasion?
Rodenhurst: I think I shed a few tears.
Defense Rocchi: Then I have to contest what you stated, still in the same minutes, on page 9 you said: “We were all quite overwhelmed but as far as I remember I hadn’t cried, didn’t cry, but I was very concerned about Jade”.
Rodenhurst: Yes.

Rodenhurst was caught out again adding a detail that Knox became “more agitated” at the police station but in January 2008 said Knox was “absolutely calm”.

Rodenhurst: At the beginning she was very tranquil, she seemed very calm, I don’t remember that well but then she became more agitated.
Defense Brusco: However, you did not mention this in your statement on January 31, page 14, to a specific question you replied: “Amanda entered first and when she came out she was absolutely calm, she complained for a moment of having dirty hands”.

Natalie Hayward

Natalie Hayward met Meredith Kercher in September 2007 and last saw her at Butterworth and Frost’s apartment on October 31.[17] When Hayward arrived at the police station she saw Amanda and Raffaele sitting with housemates Filomena and Laura and a friend of Laura’s.[18] She described Amanda’s behavior as: “quite angry, and then sometimes happy and then also a bit frustrated”.[19] Amanda told her she spent the previous night at Raffaele’s apartment and returned to the cottage around 11am to change clothes.[20]

This exchange below on p127 of the transcript was misreported repeatedly by the media as Amanda saying: “What do you think? She fucking bled to death”. Examples here, here and here and in John Kercher’s book on page 176 [kindle location 2400].

Witness – Yes, I said to Amanda “I hope she didn’t die with a lot of agony”.
Prosecutor – And what did Amanda say?
Witness – She said “They slit her throat Nathalie, she will have died slowly in a lot of agony”.

Helen Powell

Helen Powell was the least hostile and her testimony is only 7 pages. Powell didn’t know Amanda or Raffaele before November 2 and described them at the police station as: “Amanda seemed to try and put a brave face on and Raffaele was very calm/tranquil.”[21] Powell left Perugia within days of the murder and returned to England to be with family.[22] Powell said she had never heard Meredith complain or say anything negative about Knox.

Marco Brusco: Knew Amanda before November 2?
Helen Powell: No.
Marco Brusco: She knows, however, as were the relationships between Meredith and Amanda? Have you ever heard Meredith complain about something?
Helen Powell: No.

Jade Bidwell

Jade Bidwell in her first statement to police on November 2 said: “I was not really a friend of Meredith, given we met so rarely. In fact I do not have her cellular phone number and I have never been to her home.” Yet at the trial answered as though they were friends who socialized together.[23]

Mignini: So, you knew Meredith Kercher?
Bidwell: Yes.
Mignini: Did you see her often? Did she hang out with anybody in particular? Tell us who.
Bidwell: Yes, we went out, to pubs, and she was with her friends, Amy and Robin.
Mignini: So you usually saw her out with her English friends?
Bidwell: Yes.

Bidwell was caught out by Marco Brusco, Sollecito defense trying to tell the court only Amanda Knox was discussing how the body was found yet in her January 2008 statement said: “practically everybody was saying something different….”

Brusco: Just a few brief details. Going back to the public prosecutor’s question to ask for clarification. And that is, regarding that which Amanda said November 2 at the police station, that evening, especially regarding the body of poor Meredith. What I would like to know is: was it just Amanda speaking or was it more or less everybody giving a version, let’s say, more or less credible?
Bidwell: Other people talking about how the body was found?
Brusco: Yes.
Bidwell: No, it was just Amanda because nobody else knew.
Brusco: But you, in the report of January 28, page 11, explicitly stated “practically everybody was saying something different, some saying she was found in the bathroom, others saying something else and she, Amanda, said it was the wardrobe.”

Other

Marc Rivalland, a London barrister, wrote a letter to the London Guardian [Observer edition] shortly after the conviction in 2009 claiming that Amanda Knox said “shit happens” when asked how she felt on November 2. The statement is not attributed and does not appear in any of the witness statements or testimony. Mr Rivalland’s daughter Monique was a friend of Meredith and wrote an article about her for the Times in 2012, but she was not in Perugia at the time of Meredith’s death so cannot be the source of the claim. The statement about Amanda Knox could be an example of post hoc rationalisation by someone who believed her to be guilty and therefore the ‘kind of person who probably would have said that’. The following is his letter in full:

My daughter was a Leeds student with Meredith in Perugia. They went out together on Halloween. When Amanda Knox was asked how she felt on 2 November, she said: “Shit happens”, which contrasts rather sharply with the contrived way she addressed the Italian court about “my friend Meredith”.
This is the behaviour of the murderer or a psychopath. Sympathy for her is misplaced. She staked all on “reasonable doubt” and came up short. An innocent person would have had one coherent story to tell.
Marc Rivalland
London WC2

Conclusions

The public’s understanding of the British girls testimony was influenced by tabloid hack, Barbie Nadeau, who appeared in nearly every documentary about the case mentioning “strange behavior” and the biased writings of John Follain, a British journalist who in his book “Death in Perugia” relied almost entirely on prosecution sources, and a six-hour interview with Sophie Purton. Purton had no real knowledge of the case, yet her opinions, warped by confirmation bias feature throughout it.

Follain’s bias is shown in the headlines of the smutty news articles he wrote about the Amanda Knox case, such as: ‘Foxy Knoxy’, reveals her lesbian trauma” and “Diary reveals Foxy Knoxy’s sex secrets”. On December 6, 2009, the day after the verdict, Follain put forth the absurd assertion that the relationship between Amanda and Meredith had soured because “it appears that it was Knox’s sex life that really drove a wedge between the women” even though both girls, as well as the other two housemates were sexually active at the time.

Additionally, Follain asserted the oft repeated lie that originates with Sophie Purton that Amanda brought “strange men” home to the cottage—even though it was shown at trial Amanda had very few visitors. The 3 guys who did visit were Juve who Amanda worked with, her friend Spyros from the internet cafe who she use to play the guitar and go coffee with and a cousin, Daniel, of the downstairs guys.

Follain describes Purton’s views in his book as: “Sophie’s doubts didn’t stop her hating Amanda. Even if Amanda were innocent, Sophie would hate her simply because of the callous way she had behaved at the police station and at the trial. Sophie knew she would never forgive her.”

Follain’s portrayal of the British girls and Sophie Purton in particular, demonstrates the way in which a positive or neutral opinion can quickly change when apparent evidence of complicity in a crime is produced. Of course the British girls barely knew Amanda so only had a very superficial view of her character to start with, which was immediately coloured by her reaction to the most stressful event that she had ever faced.

This contrasts with the support and understanding Amanda recieved from her Seattle friends, who knew her well and were immediately certain that she would not have been capable of participating in a violent crime. This culminated in the decision of Madison Paxton to move to Perugia so that she could visit Amanda and support her while she was in prison.

Ultimately the British girls were dupes who became stooges of the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who exploited their gossip about Knox for his sex game gone wrong fantasy. Their testimony is a textbook example of confirmation bias: Once you “know” someone is guilty, all sorts of past behavior is interpreted differently and interpretation shades into perception and recollection so that you begin to “remember” the past differently – highlighting, exaggerating and even inventing items which confirm guilt and forgetting items which negate guilt.

Media

Foxy Knoxy ‘held Meredith down during deadly sex attack’, say police Daily Mail. November 9, 2007 – “It also emerged last night that Miss Kercher’s friend Sophie Purton, 20, helped turn police attention to Knox by telling them about her lovers.”

‘They won’t paint a pretty picture of Foxy Knoxy,’ prosecutor says as Meredith’s friends prepare to testify by Nick Pisa. Daily Mail, February 13, 2009 – Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said: ‘They will not paint a very pretty picture of Amanda and above all they will describe her very strange behaviour at the police station following the discovery of Meredith’s body. ‘They will also talk of the relationship between Meredith and Amanda and how Meredith was not happy with Amanda’s cleanliness and with the fact she brought men back. ‘They all readily agreed to return to Perugia and give evidence in the case. It will be a very long day for them but we have agreed to pay their expenses.’

Meredith Kercher’s friend: ‘Perugia can be a dark place’ UK Telegraph, September 24, 2011 – An interview with Natalie Hayward

“My memories of Meredith Kercher” by Monique Rivalland. The Times, October, 2012

References

[1] Transcript February 6, 2009 p101
[2] Ibid p. 112
[3] Ibid p. 117
[4] Ibid p. 113
[5] Ibid p. 98 & 107
[6] Ibid p. 14
[7] Ibid p. 15
[8] Ibid p. 18
[9] Ibid p. 18
[10] Ibid p. 18
[11] Ibid p. 21
[12] Ibid p. 45
[13] Ibid p. 43
[14] Ibid p. 93
[15] Ibid p. 154
[16] Ibid p. 155
[17] Ibid p. 122
[18] Ibid p. 124
[19] Ibid p. 124
[20] Ibid p. 124
[21] Ibid p. 161
[22] Ibid p. 167
[23] Ibid p. 132

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