July 16, 2001
Barry George was not a pleasant man. Of limited intelligence, he lived in squalor and was a pathological liar. He was also obsessed with guns, and a brute towards women. In short he was the local weirdo, just the sort of person you would fit up for an unsolved murder.
And then there was the unsolved murder: Jill Dando, a popular television presenter, had been shot once in the forehead. It was a clean shot. After a year, the police had found no one. The pressure was intense, Jill Dando was very popular and besides she looks a bit like Princess Diana. The police decided to charge Barry George.
A month ago Barry George was convicted of Jill Dando's murder. For such a serious crime, there was remarkably little evidence. Barry George was a "loner" who stalked women (although he never killed them, and had never stalked Dando). The man was a pathological liar. He wanted to be a singer and had an interest in guns. His motive was notoriety, although he still protests his innocence. And look at him, just look at him, he's a nutter. That was the crux of the prosecution's argument. There was also a small trace of gunpowder in his coat pocket. This could have come from the gun that had shot Dando, but it could have come from any one of 20% of the other guns in the world. Like the ones stored in the photography room in Hammersmith police station. Where Barry George's coat was stored. Unsealed. That, folks, is the smoking gun that links Barry George to Jill Dando. No positive identification of being in the area at the time. Indeed a witness stated that he was in a social security office at the time of the murder. No confession or boasting. No evidence discovered in the painstaking search of his flat, a dirty place, because nothing was ever thrown away.
So, who could have killed Barry George? One popular theory is that it was a Serb gunman. Jill Dando had screened a piece on the Kosovo refugee crisis. The Serbs were, as in anything made by the state controlled BBC at the time, portrayed as sub-human deviants, racially programmed to kill. At the same time, NATO had bombed the television station in Belgrade, for spewing out propaganda to the masses. Was it a great leap of faith to see this as a Serb revenge attack? The Detective in charge of the case did not think so at first and neither did the senior barrister in charge of Barry George's defence. I am more sceptical, but it raises questions.
Why would the police wish to get the wrong man? There are conspiracy theories, centering around the obvious fact that no government wishes its citizens to believe that the consequences of a government's actions abroad will be visited on its citizens. Personally, I suspect a different motivation: the police simply had to find somebody and Barry George was the somebody. Whatever has happened, this is likely to be seen as a gross injustice. A government that can break the law abroad continues its practice at home.
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