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 say. If you know them well, you may be surprised. You may even know them so well that you refuse to believe that the accusations can be true.

If you know them, well, – so, so; not too well, but more than a little, you are still likely to be swayed against them. The British girls knew Meredith quite well; Amanda, not so much. Some had never met her. In the circumstances, their behaviour is understandable.

The prosecution wanted to make sure that they would jump the right way, so they were ‘encouraged’ to reassess their impression of Amanda. They were coached before the trial and the media was told what they were going to say, before they took the stand.

A deafening silence from feminists

Feminists should have been angry when the fact that Amanda owned a joke vibrator was used against her, but they were not. They should have been annoyed when the court was told that Amanda had visitors who were men (no more than Meredith did), but they were not. Italy may still be in the 1850s when it comes to women’s liberation, but this trial was on an international stage. We are supposed to be past being surprised that twenty year old girls have sex lives. (They both did.) What does any of this have to do with murder?

Slut shaming

Slut shaming was an important part of the framing of Amanda Knox – and by extension, Raffaele Sollecito. The British girls were unwittingly, part of the process.

John Follain of the Sunday Times wrote the leading pro-guilt book on the case, which was endorsed by his publisher as ‘the definitive account’. Of course it could never be that because he had minimal contact with Amanda Knox’s family after his 2008 interview with her parents and sister Deanna, when they revealed that Amanda was assaulted during her interrogation. Edda Mellas and Curt Knox were charged with criminal slander for this, but Follain and his newspaper mysteriously escaped the attention of the authorities, although they published the accusation.

He made up for the disadvantage of having limited access to the defendants by peppering his book with prejudicial comments from or about the British girls, who had no connection to the case apart from their presence at the police station immediately after the murder. It could be argued that they provide a convenient proxy for Follain to channel the view that Knox and Sollecito were guilty. Sophie Purton was his preferred voice. She was a witness at the 2009 trial and Follain also quotes extensively from an interview with her:

During the first trial

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.

Sophie had long been sickened by the campaign waged by Amanda’s family; she felt it was all about Amanda as the victim. To her, there seemed to be no thought for Meredith, the real victim, and no respect for Meredith’s family.

After the first guilty verdict in 2009

Sophie had wanted Amanda jailed for life, but she would still have a life ahead of her. But Sophie hoped that after the verdict, Amanda and Raffaele would start to realise that they weren’t going to get away with what they’d done.

At the time of the 2011 acquittal

Sophie believed Amanda and Raffaele were guilty and was confident that they would be convicted; she couldn’t even imagine an acquittal.

“A good actress”, Sophie thought, as she watched Amanda live on TV from her home with Amy and Robyn. Amanda had chosen all the right things to say and had rehearsed her lines well.

Sophie was struck by Amanda echoing the words she had said in front of Meredith’s friends at the police station almost four years earlier: ‘It could have been me in her place.’

Confirmation bias

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 had a very superficial view of her character to start with, which was immediately coloured by her troubled reaction to the most stressful event that she had ever faced.

This contrasts with the backing and understanding Amanda secured 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.

There is a fuller study of the British Girls here:


5 thoughts on “The British girls

  1. I believe Nine Burleigh had a hilarious description of the British women. I’m trying to remember what it was.

  2. The first paragraph is so true. When I was at university, I was falsely accused of rape. My case was almost as absurd as Amanda’s: there was no physical evidence (surely there would have been at least a scratch on her body?), I was physically smaller than my alleged victim and I have never had any history of violence or crime (in all my years of driving, I’ve never even had a parking or speeding fine). The only thing everyone had to go on was the accusation alone.

    And yet everyone brushed aside their doubts about my guilt. Although this was years ago, I clearly remember the witch-hunt against me. The vigilantes made sure the rumour was spread to every corner of the university and the abuse I got from people was so bad that I had no choice but to move from campus and commute into lectures (this was expensive as I had to pay rent for two flats, but the bullying was so bad that I had no choice. My family tried to get me to withdraw from university altogether, but I was too stubborn.). I had to delete all my internet profiles as the abusive comments on there were too upsetting and my doctor ended up putting me on antidepressants. It got to the point where I became a virtual recluse, avoiding places where I was likely to see my ‘guilters’. In retrospect, I realise they were just as pathologically obsessive about me as Amanda’s ‘guilters’ are about her. It’d be interesting to know which personality disorders such people suffer from. Their lives must be so empty for them to obsess about someone they hardly know, who has had no (direct) impact on their lives.

    What upset me the most was the way more rational people went along with the allegations. I would have thought they would question what they heard about me, but it turned out not to be the case. People don’t look at evidence or lack of thereof. Since an allegation has been made, it must be true because people never maliciously make things up, do they? It was hard for me to lose friends over this – people I had confided in previously and assumed would stick by me in difficult times. Unfortunately, people think “no smoke without fire” rather than “innocent until proven guilty”.

    The whole situation was an education for me. It taught me how vulnerable we all are to false accusations, and how it could happen to any of us – even the shyest, geekiest, least assuming person could be accused of a heinous violent crime. Even on exoneration, your life will never be the same – people will view you with suspicion years later, just because your name was linked with a henious crime at some point. The only way to get through it is to plough on with your life and try to ignore what people think. For anyone who has been falsely accused, just realise that all the people who believe the allegation are not worth bothering with. Immerse yourself with your work and your hobbies, and try to enjoy your life as best as you can. There’s nothing you can do about the allegation so just try to move on.

  3. Excellent article and so very true. People have a natural tendency to believe accusations are true and to believe the police. They form an opinion almost immediately and seldom change it.

    It’s interesting to note that the most damaging and disparaging statements made by the British girls about Amanda where not made immediately after the murder. They were made months later after the character assassination of Amanda had been well underway in the media and they had read later proven misinformation in the media.

  4. It’s terribly sad how these ladies were used by Mignini, I hope one day they see themselves as victims of his schemes and are able to mend fences with Amanda. That would be proper form and it would also be what Meredith would want, if the stories of her kind heart are true. Imagine how hurt she would be by all this wrong-headed anger spilled in her defense? That her friend spent time in prison because of it? That would break my heart.

    That’s the saddest part, these ladies thought they were helping their dead friend and her family, instead they were used in a dirty scheme that had nothing to do with finding justice for Meredith.

    When they are old enough to understand, if that hasn’t occurred already, they should be angry as h-e-double toothpicks. I would be if I were in their shoes.

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