1. The Shooting of Jill Dando
Described as the 'Golden Girl of television', Jill Dando came to be regarded in Britain as the "popular face of crime fighting" having been the joint presenter of the BBC One Crimewatch programme since 1995. It was therefore something of a cruel irony when she herself became a crime victim herself, being shot dead at the front door of her home at Gowan Avenue in Fulham shortly after half past eleven on the morning of the 26th April 1999.
Her next door neighbour Richard Hughes heard her scream and later described it as "a distinctive scream, she sounded quite surprised". He then "opened the shutters and saw a man" whom he decribed as being "well dressed", "wearing a Barbour-style jacket" and as looking "very respectable". It was however some ten minutes later before another neighbour, Helen Doble found Jill slumped on her doorstep and called the emergency services.
The first ambulance crew arrived six minutes later, and were soon joined by a doctor and paramedic from the London Air Ambulance, a second ambulance crew, and two further paramedic ambulance officers who arrived by car. They spent the best part of thirty-five minutes
attempting to resuscitate her before she was taken by ambulance to Charing Cross Hospital. There the crash team led by Hugh Millington made further efforts to revive her before she was certified dead at 1.03pm. The subsequent post mortem established the cause of death as a brain injury caused by a single gunshot wound to the side of the head fired from close-range by a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
2. Operation Oxborough
Naturally the shooting of a television personality required a major investigation and the Metropolitan Police duly launched Operation Oxborough in its bid to identify the killer. This turned out to be the biggest murder inquiry ever carried out by the Metropolitan Police at the time, and indeed the largest criminal investigation conducted by any British force since the days of the Yorkshire Ripper.
To help matters along The Daily Mail came forward with a £100,000 reward on the 10th May, an anonymous businessman offered a further £50,000, whilst on the 3rd August The Sun chipped in with a further £100,000. Naturally her shooting twice became the subject of an appeal by the very Crimewatch programme she once used to host, and thanks to these public appeals. This, together with other media coverage of the investigation ensured that there was a steady flow, if not a torrent, of witness sightings and tip offs. The officers at Operation Oxborough ended up with the details of thousands of potential witnesses and informants. Some 2,100 names were put forward as possible suspects and the Met spent much time investigating and eliminating "the most credible" of the names put forward. In all they identified some 140 serious suspects, all of whom displayed some kind of "unhealthy interest or obsession", and ten of whom were even interviewed as potential suspects. However the only individual they arrested was someone who came forward with a false confession.
The police came to believe that the murder was the work of an obsessed fan who had been secretly watching her home for several weeks before shooting her, an understandable conclusion given that there had been reports back in 1998 that Dando had been stalked by a fan who was responsible for a number of "frightening" phone calls and letters. However by the beginning of 2000 it was perfectly clear that, obsessed fan or not, the police did not have the faintest idea who had actually carried out the deed.
It was at this point that they decided to carry out a review of outstanding names in the system and out popped the name of Barry George who happened to live at Crookham Road in Fulham, just five hundred yards away from Dando's fomer home. He was first interviewed on the 11th April after which he was placed under surveillance, whilst on the 17th April they executed a search warrant at his home (the police had to break into the flat when they had no answer). Nothing concrete seems to have emerged from this first search, but the police maintained surveillance and on the 25th May 2000 the police eventually arrested Barry George whilst they carried out a further search of his home. George duly appeared at West London Magistrates' Court on the 29th May and was remanded in custody pending his trial for the murder of Jill Dando.
3. The trial of Barry George
Barry George's trial duly opened at the Old Bailey on the 26th February 2001. The first four days of the trial featured a series of legal arguments after which the trial was adjourned until the 23rd April and eventually got going on the 4th May 2001 with Michael Mansfield appearing for the defence and Orlando Pownall for the prosecution.
The prosecution produced evidence that George's rather cluttered flat was strewn with military and gun magazines and a large collection of clippings from newspapers (which demonstrated that he was "obsessed with guns and celebrities"), produced a witness who said that George had told him that he "could help solve the Dando murder", and showed that he had once fired a blank round during a fake raid on a woman's home sometime during the late 1980s. However most of this evidence only went to character, and the hard evidence against Barry George boiled down to two things.
Firstly that there was a witness named Susan Mayes who claimed that she had seen Barry George in Gowan Avenue at 7.00am on the 26th April on her way to the underground. Secondly, and most significantly, a single particle of firearm discharge residue (FDR) was found in the pocket of a blue Cecil Gee coat belonging to Barry George which he admitted he may have worn on the day of Dando's shooting. Forensic scientists compared this FDR with similar particles found in Jill Dando's hair and concluded that they were "very similar in that they contain comparable proportions of the main chemical elements, barium and aluminium". This the prosecution asserted was "compelling evidence of his guilt". (There was also a fibre found on Jill Dando's coat which matched those on a pair of George's trousers, although as the the prosecution's own forensic scientist, Dr Geoffrey Roe, admitted, the fibre was too small for proper analysis and in any case was so common that it meant nothing whatsoever.)
The jury retired on 27th June and having deliberated for some thirty-two hours over five days, gave their verdict of guilty by a majority of ten to one. In his subsequent sentencing on the 2nd July 2001 Mr Justice Gage described Barry George as "unpredictable and dangerous", concluded that there was no doubt that the murder was premeditated, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
3. Guilty or Innocent?
As it happens many people have never believed that Barry George was responsible for the murder of Jill Dando. The prosecution had
failed to establish a motive, failed to find the murder weapon, indeed failed to produce any evidence that placed the George at the scene at the time of the murder. The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, all published editorial comment to the effect that they remained unconvinced that the Barry George was actually responsible for Dando's murder, whilst a John McManus from the Miscarriages of Justice group was quoted as saying that the case "had all the hallmarks of an injustice". Indeed over the years a number of television documentaries and press articles have revisited the case and expressed doubts over the conviction,
whilst regular readers of Private Eye will recall that the magazine consistently published articles critical of the verdict.
Born on the 15th April 1960 at Hammersmith in west London, George came a broken home and suffered from both learning difficulties and epilepsy. (Indeed he had a minder sitting with him throughout his trial just in case he suffered a fit mid trial.) Admittedly Barry George was a "celebrity-obsessed loner", a misfit, and a fantasist who had changed his name to Barry Bulsara whilst claiming to be Freddie Mercury's cousin, and had also at various times claimed to have been Thomas Palmer, (one of the members of the SAS involved in the Iranian embassy siege of 1980), the British karate champion, and to have used the names of Paul Gadd and Steve Majors. He had previous convictions for indecent assault in 1982 and for attempted rape in 1983 as well as for impersonating police officers, (He apparently liked to stand in the street directing traffic.) although his last conviction had been in 1985 and he had remained out of trouble for the past fifteen years.
There was also evidence that George had once owned an imitation Heckler and Koch MP5 machine gun, a blank-firing handgun, as well as "a few knives", whilst he had also once spent twenty-nine days training with the Territorial Army between December 1981 and November 1982. This together with his possession of certain magazines qualified him to be described as a 'gun fanatic' in British terms, although in many states of the USA this would merely have qualified him as being normal. He also appeared to have spent time randomly following women around London and taking secret photographs of them, as the police found over 2,000 undeveloped photographs of 419 different women at his home. (Although the key word here might well be "undeveloped".)
During his trial the prosecution made much of the fact that George had in his possession a number of news articles relating to Jill Dando, there were in fact only eight articles out of tens of thousands that George had at his home. Which, given Miss Dando's public profile could have been nothing more than one would have expected by random chance, and indeed if Barry George was fixated on anyone it was the Princess Diana, as he had been apprehended in January 1983 in an apparent attempt to break into Kensington Palace, when he was found in possession of a twelve inch hunting knife, fifty foot of rope and wearing what was described as a "military-style uniform".
Perhaps the most telling piece of circumstantial evidence against George was the attempts he made to establish an alibi for the time of Dando's murder, having made a number of calls to Hammersmith and Fulham Action for Disability (HAFAD) demanding to know what time he had visited them on the day of the murder. (Since clearly only a guilty man needed an alibi.) The irony was that this simply inspired two of HAFAD's employees Elaine Hutton and Susan Bicknell to report him to Operation Oxborough in the first place. The odd thing is that George did indeed establish an alibi as a result of this activity as Susan Bicknell was to testify that he was with her at 11:50am that morning. Unfortunately Bicknell didn't turn out to be a particularly convincing witness at the trial(she later suffered a nervous breakdown sometime afterwards) whilst the prosecution claimed that she was wrong about the timing of the visit, claiming that HAFAD had simply forgotten to change their clocks as a result of the switch to British Summer Time. However what wasn't revealed at the trial was the fact that George had good reason to believe that he would be suspected of Jill Dando's murder, since he was precisely the kind of person that the police would consider as a suspect to any murder going, indeed he'd previously been questioned as a suspect in the Rachel Nickell murder.
But despite being found guilty Barry George continued to maintain his innocence and later launched an appeal against his original conviction, but this was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on the 29th July 2002, despite putting forward evidence that that one jury member had been so deeply concerned about the guilty verdict that they had contacted the Old Bailey authorities to complain about "things said and done by jurors" during the trial. Undaunted the defence made an application to the House of Lords for another appeal, but this was refused on the 16th December 2002.
At the time this seemed to be more or less the end of the matter, since that effectively brought the appeal process to an end. Innocent or guilty George would remain in prison until such time as his defence team could unearth some new evidence that cast doubt on his original conviction. It took some tie, but eventually on the 25th March 2006 George's lawyers submitted new evidence to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. This consisted of medical evidence which suggested that George's mental problems were such that he would have been incapable of carrying out the crime, and also new witness evidence regarding how the gunshot residue might have been found on his coat. A few months later the BBC broadcast a Panorama special, Jill Dando's Murder — The New Evidence, on the 6th September 2006 which also claimed that there was new evidence that undermined the original conviction and included interviews with two members of the jury who in the light of new information now doubted whether they'd made the right decision back in 2001. (The BBC journalist Raphael Rowe who made the documentary was himself the victim of a miscarriage of justice, having spent twelve years in prison for murder and aggravated robbery as a member of the so-called M25 Three before being acquitted by the Court of Appeal.)
None of this however prompted the CSSR to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, and thus George remained in prison.
4. The Firearm Discharge Residue Evidence
The central piece of evidence that convicted Barry George was the 11.5 micron particle of FDR found in the internal right pocket of his coat. It was the contention of the prosecution that this came from the gun used to kill Jill Dando, and the fact that it was found inside the coat pocket explained why it had survived for so long.
At the original trial Detective Constable John Gallagher testified how he'd removed a dark blue Cecil Gee coat from a sealed package so that it could be photographed at a police studio. (The very same studio that had been used six weeks earlier to photograph a handgun and ammunition seized in an anti-terrorist operation.) Unfortunately the coat was photographed before it was forensically examined, which is not what should have happened since it broke the chain of evidence. The explanation as to why the police broke protocol was simply that they had already been told that there was virtually no chance of finding any FDR, so they didn't think that it mattered at the time.
In itself this introduced the possibility of contamination (which in some jurisdictions would have rendered the evidence inadmissable in the first place), a possibility the defence believed to be more likely once they's unearthed two new witnesses in 2006, one of whom was a Baptist minister, who claimed that some of the police who raided George's home in May 2000 were armed. (Although the Met always denied that there were any armed officers present.) In any case, whether there was contamination or not, there were always those that believed that one small fragment of FDR was of itself of no particular value and didn't prove anything, and eventually the Forensic Science Service (FSS) itself came around to the same point of view. (There were suggestions that the FSS was always of this opinion and that they'd simply kept quiet the first time round.)
On the 20th June 2007 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) announced that the FSS had now concluded that the single particle of FDR was of no evidential value whatsover. As Graham Zellick, chairman of the CCRC explained, "The particle was found a year later, it was found in a pocket and was such a small speck it could not be seen. The consensus view now is that in those circumstances for a whole variety of reasons you can infer virtually nothing from that. It neither points to guilt or innocence, it is neutral." The CCRC therefore decided to refer the whole matter back to the Court of Appeal.
5. The Second Appeal
George's second appeal hearing was heard over three days between the 5th and 7th November 2007. Despite the fact that the major part of their original case had now been demolished, the prosecution continued to insist that Barry George was guilty. Although admitting that much of the evidence was cirucmstantial, they claimed that this was a "classic circumstantial case" and that the remaining evidence "pointed irresistibly" to guilt. It was also claimed that the speck of FDR remained "potentially probative of guilt" despite the fact that the expert testimony was that it was potentially probative of nothing whatsover.
Indeed the defence now claimed that a second particle of FDR had been found on the surface of George's coat. This was of particular significance, since it was admitted that FDR would only have persisted in such a location for no more than ten hours, and that it wasn't until the 2nd May 2000 that the coat had been examined by the Forensic Science Laboratory, it must have been the case that the FDR had been placed there whilst the coat was in the police's custody and was not there when seized on the 25th March. (It was always the prosecution case that the fact that the FDR had been found deep inside the jacket pocket explained why it was still present a year later.)
Having heard both the prosecution and defence submissions, the
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, and the two other senior judges announced that their judgment would be reserved "for a good length of time", and finally delivered their verdict on the 15th November 2007.
To no one's surprise in particular Barry George's original conviction was quashed on the grounds that it was unsafe given the fact that the evidence regarding the firearm discharge residue had been nullified. As originally indicated during the second appeal hearing, the prosecution will now proceed with a retrial and therefore Barry George remains in custody on remand until such time as he stands trial once more.
6. The Serbian connection
It was on the 23rd April 1999 that NATO launched a bomb attack on the on the main broadcasting centre of Radio-Television Serbia at Aberdareva Street in Belgrade. Depending on which reports you read
either seventeen or eighteen people died in the attack, with a similar number injured.
Following the shooting of Jill Dando, the BBC received a telephone call at Television Centre in London on the 27th April, in which a man with a a foreign accent said that "your Prime Minister Blair, murdered and butchered seventeen innocent, young people who worked like make-up artists, electricians and technological engineers". On the 28th April another call was received by BBC Belfast in which the caller claimed that "You at the BBC are the voice of your government, that's why your reporter is dead - because your government killed seventeen innocent people only with the purpose to make a point."
There were also two calls made to the Daily Mirror when an an anonymous caller claimed that two men were involved in the killing, and that they'd used a vehicle and rendezvoused in nearby Bishop's Avenue.
There was even an intelligence report produced by the National Criminal Intelligence Service which claimed that "Jill Dando was the subject of an execution by a Yugoslavian hit man." The report noted that the television station was run by daughters of the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic and claimed that Zeljko Raznatovic otherwise known as Arkan, the leader of the Tigers (a Serb paramilitary group) had ordered the killing. There were also claims that Israeli intelligence services had warned Nato that the Serbians had two-man hit teams out in the field ready to attack "targets of opportunity".
It was therefore claimed that Dando was a target because she had made a television appeal on behalf of Kosovan refugees on the 6th April 1999, and noted that she had been shot on the same day as a funeral was held for a number of people killed in the earlier NATO attack.
The defence made much of the Serb assassination theory at George's original trial (although it has been doubted whether this helped their client). The prosecution also addressed the question when Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell dismissed the whole idea, claiming that it did not "stand up" in his "professional opinion", primarily because of the lack of any public acknowledgement for the shooting by the Serbians.
7. The Retrial
On the 14th December 2007 Barry George made a brief appearance at the Old Bailey, and entered a formal plea of not guilty to the single charge of murder. The defence application for bail was refused, and George was remanded in custody pending his retrial in June 2008. On the 9th June 2008 George therefore returned to the Old Bailey for the opening day of his retrial, with Mr Justice Griffith Williams presiding, William Clegg appearing for the defence and Jonathan Laidlaw for the prosecution.
The second time round there was of course no FDR evidence, although the prosecution were able to take advantage of a change in the law to introduce additional evidence regarding George's "bad character" that could not have been produced at the first trail. The court therefore heard that George had made a habit of stalking women, and had even purchased a pair of inline skates so that he could follow women, whilst the prosecution also produced photograph of George wearing a military respirator and holding a replica gun, and argued that he was obsessed with celebrities, guns and the military and insisted that "Barry George, and no other, murdered Jill Dando".
The jury retired and spent the best part of two days considering their decision, and returned to court on the 1st August 2008 and delivered a unanimous verdict of not guilty. It must be said that their decision was not greeted with a great deal of surprise, as whilst the prosecution were able to produce a great deal of evidence to show that Barry George was indeed the kind of man who might well have murdered Jill Dando, and could therefore be considered a viable suspect, they were not able to present a single shred of evidence that showed that he had in fact done so.
The Jill Dando Murder therefore now officially becomes an unsolved murder.
BBC News still retains its old coverage of the original Dando trial at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2001/dando_trial/default.stm , whilst The Guardian has an archive of its coverage of the case at
S. C. Lomax, the author of The Case of Barry George later updated as Who Killed Jill Dando? has some material on the case at http://www.sclomax.co.uk/barrygeorge.htm . (He thinks that Dando was murdered by one of her ex-boyfriends. He is probably the same person as the Scott Lomax, author of Trial and Error: The Case of Barry George found at http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/legan/legan040.htm.
You can also read the original 2002 Appeal Court judgement at
whilst Bob Woffinden's, Shadow of doubt?, from The Guardian of July 6, 2002 at
is probably the best summary of the information relating to the Serbian connection.