21 June 2007

Barry George was a victim of the Jill Dando murder

So, has Barry George spent 7 years in prison for nothing? There have been numerous doubts over his conviction and life sentence for Jill Dando’s murder, but unfortunately the British Justice System never likes to admit mistakes when they get things wrong.

Nobody can have any sympathy for the real murderer of Jill Dando - it was a truly horrific crime on 26 April 1999, when she was shot in the head at her own doorstep in Fulham, south-west London. It was perfectly understandable that this murder caused a desperate hunt for the killer, and the police were under enormous pressure to come up with a suspect.

However, was it real detective work that caused the police to arrest Barry George on 25 May 2000 for Dando’s murder, or did he merely fulfil the role of a convenient scapegoat to help “solve” the crime? The legal process worked in its usual routine manner, leading to a trial where on 2 July 2001 a jury found George guilty of murder, and he was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

A lot of issues were left unresolved after George’s conviction, which has caused doubts about whether he was the real murderer. George apparently had no motive, no weapon had ever been found, and there were no eyewitnesses who could identify George as the killer. Barry George also had a variety of personality disorders, which might have caused problems for both him and others - he had apparently stalked and photographed hundreds of women - but that didn’t make him a murderer.

Barry George had always denied murdering Jill Dando, and the evidence was largely circumstantial as to whether it was even possible for him to have been the killer. However, a crucial claim centred on a piece of forensic evidence, which appeared to show that a speck of firearms residue had been found, more than a year after the murder, inside the pocket of George’s coat. This evidence - that a single speck of residue from the gun used to kill Jill Dando had been found in the pocket of George’s coat - must have played an important part in the Old Bailey jury’s 10 to one majority verdict.

After years of investigations, on 20 June 2007, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has finally decided to refer Barry George’s case back to the Court of Appeal.

Professor Graham Zellick, Chairman of the CCRC, said: “We have reached the conclusion that the weight placed on that evidence at the trial, and presumably by the jury, was inappropriate, was incorrect. … 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.”

There are arguments that the firearm’s residue got into George’s coat through accidental contamination, or possibly it was the result of some deliberate act by an over-zealous policeman?

How that speck of firearm’s residue got into Barry George’s pocket, and whether it was in fact firearm’s residue at all, seem to be questions that will never be answered. Did this evidence simply arise from scientific forensic work that legitimately convicted George, or were the police actually going all out to corruptly frame him?

It seems that, after all this time, a key piece of forensic evidence used to convict Barry George is now seen as “valueless”. The conviction was unsafe all along, and this case is likely to turn out to be yet another example of a serious miscarriage of justice.