The Jill Dando Murder

Crime Files

Jill Dando was 37-years-old when she was murdered outside her west London home on 26 April 1999. She had spent the previous night at her fiancé’s home in Chiswick and was returning to her house in Fulham.I

t was 11.30 am and as she reached her front door, she was shot at close range in the side of her head, with a homemade replica of a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. A local resident found her body shortly afterwards and she was rushed to the nearby Charing Cross Hospital but announced dead on arrival at 1.03 pm.

Jill Dando was buried on 21 May 1999 at the Clarence Park Baptist Church in Somerset. On 28 September 1999 a memorial service was held for her, at which Sir John Birt, Director General of the BBC, gave a special address.

The Key Figures

Jill Dando - VictimDetective Chief Inspector Hamish CampbellDetective Chief Superintendent Brian EdwardsBarry Michael George aka Barry Bulsara - The accusedMr Justice Gage - Trial judgeOrlando Pownall QC - ProsecutorMichael Mansfield QC - Defence

The Arrest

personal or political?

On 10 December 1999, it was reported in the Sun newspaper that a man, strolling along the shore of the Thames, had found a black 9 mm automatic Baretta, wrapped in newspaper, a gun similar to that used in the Dando shooting. The same day, police revealed that it was likely Dando had been shot by a stalker rather than a professional killer.There were certain indicators leading them to this conclusion. These included the public location of the murder, with nowhere to hide and the lack of a getaway car. There was a strong element of chance, as Dando seldom went to her own house, spending most of her time at her fiancé’s home. Whilst the police never found the murder weapon, they found that not only had the muzzle made contact with the victim but both the firearm and ammunition was homemade. All these factors were contrary to a professional killer’s work. The Baretta gun was later found to have no connection to the crime.

After a year the case was reviewed and a man, who had previously been overlooked, became the new focus. His was known as Barry Bulsara, 40-years-old and unemployed. He lived half a mile from Dando’s home and his behaviour had been described as odd by some of the murder witnesses. Police set up surveillance on Bulsara and discovered that he regularly followed women along the street, often right to their front doors.Based on their findings, along with the witness reports, police arrested Bulsara on 25 May 2000, withholding his name from the public. A few days after the arrest, they discovered he had been known by other names, including Thomas Palmer and Steve Majors, and finally learned his real name was Barry Michael George. George had told acquaintances and neighbours he assumed false identities due to his work in a high security government position. This was untrue, as was his claim that he was related to the late Freddy Mercury, rock group Queen’s lead singer, whose original surname was Bulsara.There was little forensic evidence to be found but in an initial search of George’s apartment, police discovered that he had an unusual fascination for the BBC, celebrities, the military and guns. He had a large collection of books and magazines on those subjects and police found photographs he had taken from his television of female newsreaders. They also found two articles, cut out from the Metro newspaper, referring to Dando’s death.George was held in custody for 84 hours, during which time, police found a small particle of gunpowder residue on the lining of his coat pocket. It was consistent with gunpowder found at the murder scene and in Dando’s hair. Investigators also discovered a strand of fibre at the crime scene that matched the material of a pair of trousers owned by the suspect. George appeared at the West London Magistrate’s Court on 29 May 2000, where police were granted an extension to hold him for further questioning before they formally charged him for the crime.

The Investigation

Who Killed Jill Dando

The Dando murder investigation was conducted by the Metropolitan Police and continued for more than a year. It was named Operation Oxborough and led by Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell. The inquiry involved three teams of detectives, and numerous criminologists, psychologists and forensic experts. At the scene of the crime, a single Remington brand bullet cartridge was found. It was of the type used by a rare 9mm semi-automatic Browning pistol. One criminologist working on the case described this to the BBC news on 27 April 1999, as the type of gun used by drug dealers and professional criminals.There was much speculation as to the motive for her murder, not least that, due to her work with ‘Crimewatch UK’, she had possibly angered someone in the criminal underworld. There was also the fact that it was a single shot to the head, favoured by professional assassins. Chief Inspector Campbell made a statement to the press in which he said that the killer could either be a stalker or a hit man. CCTV footage of Dando’s journey to her home on 26 April 1999, suggested that she had not been followed and no one knew what her movements that morning would be.

In a sad twist of fate, Dando’s murder was reconstructed on ‘Crimewatch UK’ in an attempt to help police find her killer. It resulted in the BBC receiving over 500 calls. After a month, the Dando case was re-examined and Chief Inspector Campbell was replaced by Detective Chief Superintendent Brian Edwards. In the last week of July 1999, Campbell made a statement that the forensic experts had discovered distinctive markings on the bullet casing found at the scene of the crime. The markings were thought to have been made in order to both hold the bullet in place and to reduce the sound made when it was fired.Six months into the murder investigation, police had interviewed over 2,500 people and taken more than 1,000 statements but were still no closer to finding the suspect. Rewards were offered for further information leading to the capture of Dando’s killer, with the Sun and Daily Mail newspapers offering £100,000 each and the anonymous telephone hotline ‘Crimestoppers’ offering £50,000.

Timeline

Born:9 November 1961 - Barry Michael GeorgeThe Victim:26 April 1999 - Jill Dando, 37The Crime:11.30 am - Dando shot outside her front door1.03 pm - Dando announced dead on arrival at Charing Cross HospitalArrested:Barry Michael George, 40:1980 - Impersonating an officer (fined)1980 - Molesting two women (acquitted)1982 - Indecent assault (convicted)1983 - Attempted rape (convicted)1983 - Trespassing on the property of Diana, Princess of Wales (fined)25 May 2000 - Jill Dando murder (convicted)Trial:January-July 2001 - The Old Bailey, LondonConvicted:2 July 2001 - Jill Dando murderSentenced:2 July 2001 - Life in prisonAcquitted:1 August 2008

The Trial

Gunpowder a giveaway?

In early January 2001, nearly two years after the crime, the Dando murder trial began at the Old Bailey, London. It was led by trial judge Mr Justice Gage, with Orlando Pownall QC as prosecutor and Michael Mansfield QC as defence attorney. After four days, the proceedings were adjourned by Gage for unknown reasons. The trial resumed in the last week of April 2001, only to be further delayed until 4 May 2001, when it was finally underway, before a jury of five men and seven women.The highly publicised trial lasted five weeks, sparked much controversy and pivoted around a single piece of forensic evidence. Prosecutors maintained it was the gunpowder residue found on George’s clothing that linked him to the shooting. The defence team dismissed the evidence as unreliable, particularly as it was smaller than half of a thousandth of an inch in size. Gunpowder residue is usually not permitted as conclusive evidence, as it has been found to be consistently unreliable due to cross contamination.

Prior to the trial, a leading American forensic scientist appeared on a BBC Panorama programme about the Dando murder and slated the use of firearm residue as ‘not scientific’. In late August 1999, The Independent on Sunday newspaper had run a story that exposed the questionable status of the evidence. Those who doubted George’s guilt maintained that he would not have been capable of committing the crime due to his learning difficulties. Others suggested that he was capable of murder, as he had once held down work as a stunt man.Sally Mason, an acquaintance of George and a witness at the trial, stated that in a conversation she had with George about the Dando murder, he had remarked to her that he had been there. To police, George had always claimed he was not present, proving him to have lied.George maintained he was innocent and the prosecution could find no motive for the killing. They also failed to produce the murder weapon or any actual witnesses to the crime. The jury deliberated for more than 30 hours, over five days, before returning with a verdict, in a majority of 10 to one.On Monday 2 July 2001, in a packed Court Room Number One, Barry Michael George, 41, of Crookham Road, Fulham was found guilty of the murder of Jill Dando and sentenced to life in prison. Whilst sentence was being passed, George stood motionless in the dock, staring straight ahead at the judge. Dando’s fiancé, Farthing, and her ‘Crimewatch UK’ co-host, Nick Ross, were in attendance but stood right at the back of the courtroom. George’s sister, Michelle Diskin, was also present and gave an interview outside the court after her brother had been sentenced. She said she believed the case had been built entirely on circumstantial evidence and that justice had not been served. 

The AftermathOn 1 August 2008 Barry George was acquitted, after two appeals and eight years in jail.George's mental disability and epilepsy gave strength to the defence's argument that he was incapable of the killing, maintaining it would have involved detailed planning and specialised bullets. George's IQ tests placed him in the lowest five per cent of the population, with a score of only 75.Vital evidence, linking a miniscule amount of gunpowder residue in George’s pocket, was cast in doubt when subsequent analysis showed that the residue could have come from other sources.George was cleared of the murder after the evidence against him was proved insufficient. The case remains open and the Metropoliltan police plan to undertake further review of the evidence.