Saturday, August 02, 2008 

Justice at last for Barry George, but still none for Jill Dando.

Did anyone, except for the Metropolitan police, the lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service that authorised the original charge, 10 members of the original jury, and the judges that rejected his first appeal believe that Barry George was guilty of the murder of Jill Dando? Perhaps a better question now would be how many of those aforementioned organisations and individuals still believe that Barry George *is* guilty of the murder of Jill Dando.

For it certainly seems that the police and the CPS, despite everything, continue to be willing to defend their horlicks of a case, even after it has finally been proved to have been one of the most rotten and circumstantial to have come before a court in recent times. The only evidence that even slightly linked George to Dando were the single particle of "firearms residue discharge" found in one of his jacket pockets when his home was searched, evidence which was later ruled inadmissible because of the potential for contamination, and a single fibre found on Dando's raincoat, which the prosecution claimed came from a pair of C&A trousers found, again, when they searched George's flat.

George, like others before him, such as Colin Stagg and Stephen Kiszko, seems to have been picked up for little other reason than the fact that he was considered to be the local oddball. George certainly was weird: as a result of both his low IQ and a personality disorder, he went through a phase of passing obsessions, one of which during the early 80s was with guns and militaria. Later he became infatuated with Queen, and regularly claimed to be Freddie Mercury's cousin, going so far as to change his name by deed poll to Barry Bulsara. He also, as the court heard, followed local women and took photographs of them, on a number of occasions harassing them to such an extent that they either became frightened or agitated. During the 80s he was imprisoned for attempted rape, a crime he pleaded guilty to, and a neighbour also claimed that he had assaulted her.

None of this however even begins to make the case that he was a murderer, let alone the murderer of Jill Dando. The murder weapon itself was never found, and apart from the infamous photograph depicting him in a gas mask with a starting pistol and the magazines, both from the 1980s, there was nothing to suggest that George had owned any weapons for years. What was clear was that the murder of Jill Dando was a carefully planned and executed assassination, of the type that suggests that it might well have been professional. The very last adjective you would use to describe George would be professional: tests on his memory, planning and carrying out tasks suggested that he was in the lowest 1% of the population. George also never hid his obsessions; he talked about them incessantly, to anyone who would listen. Not only did he never speak of Jill Dando, but if he had killed her, for him to both successfully get away with it for nearly a year and also not mention it to anyone would have been extraordinary. Memorably, Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, said that you wouldn't trust George to go to Tesco, let alone to carry out such a meticulous murder.

After 8 years, George has finally been proven to be completely innocent. Prison is bad enough when you're guilty and able-bodied; for George it would not be an exaggeration to describe it as his own personal hell. Like other victims of miscarriages of justice, what they don't want so much as compensation is an apology from those who first investigated them, who rubber-stamped the prosecution, and who, in George's case, have continued to defend the case even after they have been found to be not guilty. To do so however would be to admit that the police, completely stuck, did the clichéd thing and either decided to deliberately fit up the local nutter, or saw what they wanted to see in the flimsy forensic evidence which they collected. Some sections of the media have spent a lot of time of late decrying the Portuguese police for their bungled investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance, criticism which although valid in some places has also bordered on the xenophobic. Like in Praia da Luz, the trail of the real guilty party has long gone cold. You can rest assured that tomorrow London's finest will not be receiving the same levels of opprobrium that their investigation surely deserves.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007 

Nothing ever changes.

One of the photographs showing George as more dangerous than he may well have actually been.

If there's one thing we've learned from previous cases where miscarriages of justice have been exposed, the police tend to fight tooth and nail against any accusations of getting the wrong man, both to defend their original investigation and to protect the officers involved. It's hardly surprising then that both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service aren't even attempting to hide their contempt for the latest appeal being attempted by Barry George and his lawyers against his conviction for murdering Jill Dando.

Again, like with other alleged and proved miscarriages of justice, George is what could be described as an "oddball". When his mental health was examined him prior to his trial, it was found he was suffering from a number of personality disorders, with his defence team suggesting as many as six. Despite the police considering him to be of average intelligence, he was also found to have an IQ of 78. A Grauniad article best summed up his past, littered with obsessions, lies and fantasies, at times demanding to be called Paul Gadd, the real name of Gary Glitter, and later changing his name by deed poll so that he had the same surname as Freddie Merucry, Bulsara. He also posed at times as Mercury's cousin. The article also mentions that for a time George was considered a suspect in the murder of Rachel Nickell, a crime that was initially pinned on Colin Stagg, another man widely accused of being weird, and who endured over a decade of smears and lies in the gutter press after the judge at his trial threw out the prosecution case after it became clear that the only evidence the Met had was gathered using a honeytrap, with a female officer befriending Stagg. The police now believe a man being held indefinitely at Broadmoor was responsible after re-examining forensic evidence.

George's conviction was similarly based on flimsy evidence. The only real prima facie part of the case was that George was found to have a particle of firearms residue discharge found in his pocket, of the same sort of powder as that used in the cartridge of the murder weapon. This has since come under heavy scrutiny because of the possibilities of contamination. In any case, the Forensic Science Service itself now believes that the single speck of FRD is "of no value".

Whilst there have been many other theories as to how and why Jill Dando came to be murdered, the most widely circulated and plausible being a Serbian hitman being responsible, all have been dismissed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Apart from the worthlessness of the particle evidence, it has be considered whether George was in any way capable of such an apparently well-planned and executed murder plot. Don Hale, who was instrumental in proving the innocence of Stephen Downing, interviewed George for the Sunday Mirror in 2002, alongside Paddy Hill, one of the "Birmingham Six", found a man overwhelmed by paranoia and living in fear for his own live. To quote Hill's conclusion:

As George returned to our table after wandering off for the umpteenth time Paddy asks: "Is this man capable of planning and killing Jill Dando in cold blood?"

Then he answers his own question: "You wouldn't send him to Tesco," he said.

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