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.
On 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.