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jill Dando: New evidence may reveal a miscarriage of justice

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09/05/2006 11:17 AM
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jill Dando: New evidence may reveal a miscarriage of justice
Two new witnesses have come forward with testimony that could undermine the police case against the man now serving life for the TV presenter's murder. So did Barry George really kill Jill Dando? His family in Ireland still protest his innocence, while Belfast-born journalist Brian Cathcart, who investigated the murder, says that George might have done it but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him. Sophie Goodchild and Jonathan Owen report.
30 August 2006

He made an unlikely assassin. Ordering Jill Dando to kneel on the doorstep of her home, Barry George, an epileptic with learning disabilities, calmly pumped a single gunshot into the Crimewatch presenter's head.

Amid a public outcry over the killing, police tracked George, who was known to have an obsession with the glamorous 37-year-old, hoarding newspaper cuttings about the BBC star in his dingy Fulham flat. He also had a conviction for attempted rape and an "interest" in guns. Case closed. Or so it seemed.

But now, six years after the then 41-year-old was jailed for life at the Old Bailey for what the judge, Mr Justice Gage, described as a "premeditated" killing, George is at the centre of startling new claims that could make his conviction a sensational miscarriage of justice.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which has the power to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, is studying crucial new evidence that appears to cast doubt over George's guilt and backs claims by some of Dando's closest friends that the wrong man is behind bars for the crime.

The new evidence includes testimony from two new witnesses - believed to be a retired church minister and an airport worker - that contradicts the police claim that none of its officers was armed.

This could prove crucial. The only forensic evidence that linked George with the murder was a particle from gunshot residue found in his coat pocket. But experts have pointed out that if the officers who searched his flat were armed they would have been covered with residue themselves and could have easily contaminated his clothes.

Another key element of the appeal presented by George's lawyer Jeremy Moore, are previously undisclosed psychological reports which suggest the person responsible was of a very different character. They also say George's mental disabilities would have made him incapable of committing the crime.

The challenge to George's conviction also disputes the testimony of a key eyewitness sighting of George in the area on the morning of the murder. The entire jury is understood to have been interviewed by CCRC investigators, including two who have given statements claiming that fellow jurors openly discussed the case in the bar of the hotel where they were staying during the trial.

It has always been claimed that Dando, who was soon to marry her fiancé, Alan Farthing, had not intended to return home that day. However, it has now emerged that the CCRC has interviewed a female cousin who says she had made an arrangement to see Dando at her house that day. This means that a select group of people would have clearly known her movements. Whitehall sources, who have seen details of the evidence that has been examined by the CCRC, say that it is "very significant" and gives a strong indication that his appeal may be successful.

"Put it this way, the case is certainly not a dead duck and the new material that has been collected is extremely compelling," said the insider. The CCRC, which is planning to publish its decision in November, told this paper it was not prepared to comment on the investigation but did say that its review had been "extensive".

"Numerous lines of inquiry have been investigated, ranging from interviewing witnesses to commissioning forensic reports," said a spokesman.

New details are also expected to emerge when the BBC screens a documentary about the case next Monday (September 4) which reportedly includes interviews with two members of the jury that convicted George.

Investigative journalist Don Hale, who has visited George in prison, believes there are parallels with the case of Stephen Downing, who spent more than 30 years in prison for the murder of a woman in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The conviction was eventually overturned after years of campaigning by Mr Hale and others.

"Barry is not the sort of guy you'd want home for tea but did he commit this brutal murder? No. This is a massive miscarriage of justice," says Mr Hale, who has passed on new details about the case to the CCRC.

"When you talk to Barry, it's clear he has a lot of mental health issues and doesn't really realise what was going on. He was an easy target who lived in the area and was a bit of a fantasist."

Brian Cathcart, originally from Belfast, who investigated the case for his book about the killing, believes it is possible that George killed the television presenter but that the jury was wrong to convict him on the basis of flimsy evidence and "a mountain of innuendo".

"There was no obsession with Jill Dando, there was no weapon, there was no modus operandi," says Mr Cathcart, author of Jill Dando: Her Life and Death.

"What the prosecution did prove was that Barry George is a bit weird but, frankly, I don't think we've come to the point where we lock up people for being a bit weird."

The details of Dando's killing - she was forced on to her knees, then shot at close range - suggest the murderer was calculating and experienced and confident enough to walk away casually after the daylight attack.

Michael Bourke, George's uncle, is adamant that his nephew does not fit this profile. He is convinced that George possesses neither the physical nor mental ability to carry out such a crime, an opinion which is backed up by experts who have provided evidence to the CCRC investigation. From an early age, he had attended a special school and also suffered from epilepsy. At the time of his arrest, George was using the name Barry Bulsara, the real name of the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

Mr Bourke, who lives in Ireland, said: "Barry is not stupid but he is not the brightest either. A lot of people survive being shot in the head but this was a killing carried out with such efficiency. Barry is the sort of person who would have panicked or tried to hide if he had committed the crime, but people at the advice centre [that he visited that day] said he arrived completely calm."

A central part of the prosecution case against George was the portrayal of him as a gun fanatic who was experienced with weapons. In reality, he failed his Territorial Army training and never got as far as practising on the ranges of his local gun club.

The gun that was used to kill Dando was a replica firearm, a "short" automatic smooth barrelled 9mm gun which had been specially modified. But Mr Bourke says his nephew's technical skills were non-existent.

"He could not have adapted a gun because he did not have the mechanical skills. If his mother ever wanted a plug changed then he would always ask me to help her instead."

His scepticism about the prosecution case is shared by police experts.

John O'Connor, a former Met commander who has extensive firearms knowledge, is convinced that George's mental state would rule him out as the killer.

"This is the guy who could not even put a new lamp on his bike," says Mr O'Connor. "I don't think he was skilled in close-quarter conduct or had the focus or confidence to get someone down on to their knees. In the picture circulated in all the papers of him dressed up in combat gear, he is actually posing with a water pistol. I think Barry George was a pest and probably should have been in an institution but he did not have the physical ability to carry out this killing."

So if Barry George is found to be the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice, who did kill Jill Dando? As news of her slaying began to spread, so did the theories about why anyone would want to murder this friendly broadcaster. These included the belief that her killing was ordered by the Serbian warlord Arkan in revenge for Nato bombing a television station in Belgrade. This theory stemmed from the fact that Dando was the public face of appeals for Kosovan refugees.

Others focused on the theory that someone from the criminal underworld had paid a hitman to get rid of her because of her work on Crimewatch.

However, many criminal experts believe that some of these theories are not as far-fetched as they may seem.

In fact, Michael Mansfield, George's barrister, revealed in court that a report from National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) had made reference to a Serbian hitman. Her agent is also understood to have received a warning about her work supporting Kosovan refugees.

Douglas Mounce, a radio presenter who got to know Dando at Radio Devon and remained close to her, says he sympathises with the police who were under "incredible pressure" from the public to bring someone to justice. But he is not convinced that George carried out the shooting.

In his first ever interview, Mr Mounce, who also presents for Radio 4, said: "The public just wanted to find somebody to blame, to account for it. I had my own doubts when he was convicted. It think that was the general feeling of other people also."

On the day Dando was murdered, Mr Mounce had his mobile phone switched off so did not learn about her death until that afternoon. "I was in deep shock and couldn't speak to anybody for days, even though people were asking for me to do interviews about it," he recalls.

The brutal and completely unexpected death of his friend, whom he remembers as "a really lovely girl", is still hard for him to accept. "It hurts every time you see her picture on the front of newspapers," he said. "I think it just needs to be resolved. Jill was such a jolly, happy person and that was what's so sad about it all. Whoever they find, it's not going to bring Jill back, is it?"

Additional reporting by Jessica Cheam

Tale of a trail: From a doorstep in Fulham to the Old Bailey

April 1999

At 11.30am, Monday April 26, Jill Dando is shot in the head at close range outside her home in Fulham, south-west London, just 40 minutes after she was filmed on CCTV while out shopping, above. A huge hunt, called Operation Oxborough, is mounted.

April 2000

Believing the killer may have been an obsessive loner, on April 17 police search flat of Barry George. Speck of gunpowder residue in a jacket pocket is later presented to link him to the shooting.

May 2000

Police arrest Barry George on May 25 and charge him with Jill Dando's murder.

February 2001

Trial of Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando begins at the Old Bailey on February 26. Proceedings finally start on April 23.

July 2001

After 30 hours of deliberation by the jury, Barry George convicted of murder by a 10-1 majority and sentenced to life.

July 2002

An appeal against the conviction heard on July 15 and 16 , centring on questions of mistaken identity and scientific evidence. Appeal rejected on July 29. Barry George protests his innocence in a statement.

November 2002

An application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate the conviction made by the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. In December, Lords refuse permission to take appeal to a higher court.

September 2006

The CCRC prepares to announce whether the case will be referred to the Court of Appeal.
[link to www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk]
Anonymous Coward
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09/05/2006 01:28 PM
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Re: jill Dando: New evidence may reveal a miscarriage of justice
Patsey set up by MI5 to protect an assassin sent by the Serbian government as revenge for Dando's coverage of a TV program about NATO's bombing of a Serbian TV station in Belgrade.
Anonymous Coward
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07/21/2013 07:50 PM
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Re: jill Dando: New evidence may reveal a miscarriage of justice
Patsey set up by MI5 to protect an assassin sent by the Serbian government as revenge for Dando's coverage of a TV program about NATO's bombing of a Serbian TV station in Belgrade.
 Quoting: Anonymous Coward 139870

Old thread but new news on Barry George see your publications on Jill Dando for July 2013.

On the serbian factor? no way! this is typical dis-information & the serb factor is all over the 'net like jam on bread...there's something more to all of this and I continue to investigate! smile_kiss