Passing the 20th anniversary of the murder of journalist Jill Dando the lead investigator at the time, Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell believes that no new evidence will ever be found.
The conviction of Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando was a shocking anti-climax. There was a sense of pointless unacceptable banality in the outcome. The interest in her cruel and shocking demise stupidly demanded that it had to be an international hit or a criminal underworld plot. Nothing of the sort. Lee Harvey Oswald never disclosed a motive for killing JFK in November 1963. The ludicrous mysteries surrounding the Grassy Knoll never revealed a shred of evidence. They were born out of doubt and an inability to accept random opportunity and simple chance. The conspiracy theories surrounding JFK have become legend.
Vincent Bugliosi, (1934 – 2015), the straight talking American attorney described most of the buffs advancing JFK conspiracy theories to be,
“As kooky as a three-dollar bill in their beliefs and paranoia about the assassination”.
Bugliosi would have been a useful to the Dando investigation.
If Mark Chapman had never been caught and convicted for the murder of John Lennon in 1980 would society have accepted that such a pathetic and deluded individual could possibly execute such an outspoken and controversial living icon. Conspiracy theories would have taken hold attempting to convince us that John Lennon was silenced by an official, establishment operation. So many would have believed it. Some already do, convinced that Chapman was an “agent”.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. on the 26th April 1999 TV presenter Jill Dando was shot and killed outside the front door of her property, No 29 Gowan Avenue in Fulham, London. Her killer fired one shot into her left temple with a semi-automatic 9mm handgun. The weapon was an activated blank firing smoothbore pistol and the ammunition was home produced 9mm short. It was a shocking murder seemingly without motive, carried out in broad daylight. The single ejected 9mm cartridge case was found at the scene and the fired bullet was recovered from the front door structure.
There were no witnesses to the actual murder, but locals and neighbours provided statements linked to a variety of sightings that were thought to be related to what was noticed before and after the killing. Jill Dando was found 14 minutes after she was attacked lying at the foot of her front door by a neighbour. Witnesses recalled several sightings and incidents. Her immediate neighbour saw a dark haired man leave the vicinity of her gate, which he heard click shut and walk away to the left. He was aware that Jill had arrived at her property in her BMW convertible and he had heard Jill give out a mild muffled scream as if she was surprised to see someone; it wasn’t a tone that alarmed him or caused him to investigate. He had no idea at this point that she had been shot. A neighbour opposite also saw the dark haired man, walking off in the same direction. A Range Rover had been doubled parked directly opposite Jill Dando’s house some hours before the murder. No one recalled hearing a gunshot. An ambulance was quickly on the scene and once the victim was confirmed as Jill Dando the crime scene became inadvertently insecure. The police had no immediate evidence or signs of a confirmed perpetrator, this immediately created a news vacuum and with the victim being so high profile, the media hungry for information went into overdrive. Speculation about a criminal underworld hit or an internationally driven assassination was suggested because of Jill Dando’s association with BBC Crimewatch. The media surmised that it was a “professional hit”.
As the official investigation progressed it was concluded to be the exact opposite, an angry and disjointed opportunity attack. The Met police had engaged the assistance of the criminologist, Dr Adrian West in May 1999. He deduced from the angry nature of the attack that they should give consideration to looking for a local lone obsessive. Many outside the investigation however continued to favour the far reaching and bizarre theories; the nation, ( and indeed the police investigation), continued to be distracted. A substantial reward was offered for information. The entire country was in shock. Known and admired by the nation through the media of television Jill Dando was everything we could see and what we thought; beautiful, charming, intelligent, a kind and caring spirit, happy and contented and at the peak of her career. As the high profile investigation continued very little was discovered and no criminal, political or terrorist organisation claimed responsibility. There was no hard intelligence or mouthing informers, it remained a mystery.
The investigation could not help to be influenced by media speculation which favoured a so called hitman. Like JFK and Princess Diana, an insignificant gunman and an incompetent driver were too simplistic to contemplate, the initial media vacuums did the usual, they groomed conspiracy and wild speculation. Forceful opinions circulated and influenced thinking. Based on personal beliefs and values rather than simple evidence they were appealing to many at the time and still are.
One conspiracy theory linked it to the NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia HQ on the 23rd April 1999 in the form of a reprisal and in the style of another “media” murder in Belgrade. On the 11th April 1999 Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija who edited the newspapers Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin, was shot dead by two masked men as he walked along a passageway leading to the front of his Belgrade home. He was with his partner Branka Prpa. Curuvija was shot 17 times, his partner was pistol whipped but not shot. He had been constantly harassed and threatened for his articles and outspoken narrative criticising the regime of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the events in Kosovo. Curuvija had been very outspoken and would undoubtedly have been aware of the dangers he was facing. Jill Dando was merely supporting the plight of Kosovo refugees but this was enough to create an imaginary link and a Serbian gunman conspiracy theory was born. The style of the two shootings were completely different.
Jill Dando was at the time living with her fiancé, Alan Farthing in Chiswick, they were getting married in the September. She had been making infrequent visits to her house and very few people would have known she was going to the Fulham address that morning. The police investigating her murder spent nearly 500 hours piecing together footage from CCTV cameras covering the route of her final movements. There is haunting video coverage of her going about simple and personal domestic tasks between 10.18 and 11.00 on the morning of Monday 26 April 1999. There is nothing sinister or suspicious about her surroundings and there was no sign of her being followed home. The killer had either waited in ambush on chance and or was frequenting the location as she arrived home. He had no escape route, he merely walked off down Gowan Avenue, no witness can recall seeing anyone get into a car and being driven off. Circumstances could have been different. A witness could have seen the murder take place and come face to face with the killer. He got away not by guile and planning but by swift actions and sheer luck. It would seem the killer had acted alone and was a walking offender with time on his hands. He disappeared into the community streets and avenues. The murder weapon was never recovered. If it had of been, soon after the murder it would have been possibly covered in forensic evidence, FDR, (Firearm Discharge Residue), DNA, hair particles, fingerprints and blood spatter.
If Jill Dando was killed by a so called professional who would have been highly mobile, Gowan Avenue was the worst choice of location. Her partners home in Chiswick would have been far easier to identify and log her movement routine. A local, close to Gowan Avenue however and without transport or work commitments would have the time to loiter and plot for, days, weeks, months.
If Jill Dando had been approached by nothing more threatening than a busy autograph hunter where would they have chosen to wait for her?
One must consider that events like this murder are so rare and shocking most people have confused and convoluted thought processes about what is happening or what has happened. It is not a straightforward process. A high profile victim attracts attention and a need and desire by many to be involved in a bid to assist. Witnesses can be notoriously unreliable and the unwanted help might hinder and delay progress. The crime scene was unwittingly contaminated.
Barry George who was later convicted of the murder in 2001 was not an initial suspect. Much has been suggested that he was targeted by the police in their frustration to solve a celebrity murder; the public and other high profile personalities apparently demanding action and an arrest. That is simply not true. The police didn’t approach him until 11 months after the murder. They only questioned him as a result of people persisting with calls about who they thought they had seen on the day and it was an individual fitting his description. They initially set out to eliminate him from the enquiry. They were surprised about what they discovered at his home so long after the murder. A gun magazine, references to blank firing hand guns, military paraphernalia, tribute literature to Jill Dando and a shoulder holster. This last item is very interesting. Nobody involved in shooting sport would use one and live firing cartridge hand guns had been banned from legal private ownership by 1999 in the aftermath of Dunblane. Only specialists in the police and military would ever have the need.
Staff at the Hammersmith and Fulham Action for the Disabled, (HAFAD), in Greswell Street later testified that George was in their location at or around 11:50 a.m. on the 26th April. He had arrived in an agitated state without an appointment to discuss some accommodation issues that concerned him. Frustrated that he couldn’t be seen he left with an appointment set for the next day, the 27th. He didn’t return for the appointment. As a result of the murder he had now set himself up as a local community mourner, leaving flowers at the police cordon on Munster Avenue and asking local organisations and businesses to sign cards of condolence. The following day, the 28th he visited the HAFAD to determine what time he had arrived on the day of the murder. He then went to a taxi company that he had also visited on the day of the murder to determine the same. At this location he also wanted the proprietor to remember what he was wearing. When he was asked by the police 11 months later why he had done this he replied that he felt the police would be coming after him because he was local and he had a record of violence. The police were not considering that at all.
“Foxtrot Foxtrot”, the Dando distraction
On April 28th just two days after the murder two Met Police traffic officers, Acting Sergeant Mark Newman and PC Steve Cox were the initial targets of one of the worst gun attacks on the police and public in many years. Just 20 minutes into their shift out of the Hampton Traffic Unit base in West London they confronted, gunman, George Knights after a routine stop. He opened fire initially with a 9mm semi-auto handgun and later with a 5.56 mm assault rifle. Early in the chase which rapidly included more Traffic and Area cars the pursuing callsigns were advised of a possible link with “Foxtrot Foxtrot”, the phonetic code for Fulham. Officers were aware that they could be chasing down the Dando gunman. Knights fired a total of 80 rounds, disabling 3 police vehicles. It was pure luck that he didn’t kill or injure police officers and members of the public, there were even school children on their way home. Knights was eventually contained in his ground floor maisonette in Feltham. After failing to negotiate a surrender the Operation Commander bravely ordered specialist SO19 officers to assault the property and George was successfully arrested with no casualties. This hugely violent gun incident naturally got the attention of the Fulham investigation. Whilst Knights was on remand and revelling in his twisted notoriety he attempted to distract the Fulham investigation with false information about the source of the Jill Dando murder weapon. Nobody was looking at Barry George.
George Knights in 1999, aged 42
When the police eventually questioned Barry George he maintained that he had never heard of Jill Dando before she was murdered and he didn’t know Gowan Avenue. Barry George lived very close by, just 4.5 minutes walking time. He rented an apartment in 2 Crookham Road and didn’t drive. He was a regular visitor at the HAFAD and whilst there were several options to get there on foot the most direct walking route to this location was best taken via Gowan Avenue. He was convicted for the murder in July 2001. The evidence was circumstantial, but this took a turn when it included a particle of FDR, (firearm discharge residue), that was found in the inside pocket of his dark coat. His first appeal in 2002 failed but he was successful on the second attempt in 2008. His defence succeeded in highlighting the poor procedures employed by the police in securing and protecting this so called evidence and the uncertainty of him being positively identified.
Barry George in 2000 and after being released in 2008
The image of Barry George when he was released on appeal in 2008 was that of a victim. Slow and lumbering with his movements, his obese frame had an awkwardness. Dependent on help and support from friends, family and his legal team he was the very image of a miscarriage of justice, he certainly did not fit the profile of the murderer who would have swiftly escaped from the scene in 1999. At that time however, 39 year old Barry George was lighter and fitter, he looked completely different. Despite being diagnosed with a host of disabling mental conditions he was extremely ambitious. Burdened with learning difficulties his schooling was a frustrating and unsuccessful period in his life. To escape this dull reality he moved his existence into his own fantasies adopting pseudonyms associated with glamourous rock stars and masculine real life hero’s, (including an SAS member), which he would link to fictitious careers.
He had unsuccessfully tried to join the police force in 1980 but he passed selection to join the Territorial Army in the same year, (but was released before completing his training in 1981). He would up to that point have received some weapon training. He then tried to pursue a film stunt career. He continued an interest in firearms and shooting and had attempted to secure full membership with a London gun club but was unsuccessful. Clearly his mental illness issues were stopping him from ultimately succeeding but they weren’t preventing him from trying. He had sufficient cognitive aptitude and orientation to focus on and pursue his interests.
When Barry George was convicted in 2001 the jury were unaware that he had a history of extreme violence towards women. In 1981 he was given a suspended sentence for indecent assault. In 1983 he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for the attempted rape of 20 year old Karen Gray on a stairwell outside her mother’s apartment in Chiswick, he served 18 months. In May 1989 he married a Japanese student, Itsuko Toide; it was a marriage of convenience but 4 months later he was arrested and charged for assaulting his wife. The charge was later dropped. They were divorced in April 1990. Itsuko described their relationship as “violent and terrifying”.
I visited Fulham on the 27th February 2019. It was a bright spring like day. The vicinity could be described as a pleasant London suburb. Gowan Avenue in particular, has an elegant exclusive air, the Victorian terraced properties are all well maintained. The Avenue is adorned with a mixture of expensive and tidy vehicles. The relevant neighbouring locations, Crookham Road and Greswell Street are surprisingly close. Whilst this was made accurately apparent in media reports, actually being there really does make a difference to your viewpoint.
When Barry George turned up at HAFAD on the morning of the murder he was a wearing a yellow top, blue jeans and carrying a carrier bag full of written material. The perpetrator however was a described as wearing a dark jacket. George’s defence maintained that if he was the killer he would have gone home to Crookham Road, changed, picked up the carrier bag and used a route to Greswell Street sensibly avoiding Gowan Avenue. They decided this would take 28 minutes and that did not include changing clothes. This would mean that if he had committed the murder at 11:30 a.m. he could not have got to the HAFAD at or before 11:50 a.m. On that basis they argued he could not possibly have committed the crime.
I tried the route adding just 1 minute to change a top and pick up a bag. Turning left away from Jill Dando’s property at number 29 and backtracking along the next available right turns, Sidbury Street and Wardo Avenue to sweep back to Crookham Road and then routing back towards Greswell avoiding Gowan took 21.5 minutes. Turning left initially and then turning back along the other side of Gowan Avenue to Crookham Road and then the same avoiding route to Greswell took 18.5 minutes. That was all at a brisk walk with no adrenalin assist and I’m 63 not 39. If George chose to jog at every street crossing, (not an odd action in normal circumstances), the time would be even less. I did exactly this on another visit and completed the full route in 20 mins. Jill Dando laid dead or dying for 14 minutes before she was found. That is a massive amount of time for George to decide on an escape route even if the initial period was a frantic and confused moment in time. It was also merged with an element of pure luck. It could have been completely different. Nobody did a thing for at least 14 minutes. Even if it had been just 5 minutes a brisk to fast walking pace is 4 mph / 6.5 Km hr. In that time George could have covered over 500 metres.
29 Gowan Avenue to the HAFAD in Greswell Street – 7 mins
29 Gowan Avenue to 2 Crookham Road – 4.5 mins
A court of appeal and an ordered retrial found him not guilty in 2008 by a unanimous verdict. Could he have done it however. His defence always maintained he didn’t have a motive, desire, a weapon or the physical and mental prowess to execute such a plan. Some years ago, a work colleague of mine, himself an ex-convict turned writer totally convinced me that Barry George could not have been at the HAFAD in Greswell Street at the given time if he had been the perpetrator. I read some narratives supporting this and I firmly believed it. When I physically researched it myself, I found these well courted “hard facts” to be completely false, the routes and timings were entirely possible.
Unofficially this murder remains a mystery, a much loved and admired TV personality brutally slain in front of her property for a reason only known to her killer. No one else has ever come into the frame, no hard intelligence, no reliable informers, no twisted political statement, no bloodthirsty underworld warning, no sick perverted claim. Nobody has ever been able to claim the substantial reward; nothing. The press courted with the professional hitman. So many could not accept her death being perpetrated so randomly by a local loner. Perhaps Barry George was what we perceived and saw, indeed what he created; the dark “hitman” perpetrator and the clever suspect turning himself into a hapless victim of injustice. But he can’t be both. We are all entitled to our opinions but we can’t invent our own facts. Barry George continues to be a tormented individual.
Jill Dando was on the front cover of the Radio Times in the week of her murder. She had also announced her engagement to Alan Farthing. Did this image serve to frustrate and antagonise a fantasising stalker who was then determined to finalise a grotesque bond with her forever.
Nick Ross, who was Jill Dando’s BBC colleague on “Crimewatch” came under much criticism for the open letter he sent to the appeal judges in 2008, but I would urge you to read it. He is convinced that the killer was a very violent lone fantasist. He admits to being surprised that Barry George was convicted in the first place. He bases that on the manner the evidence was presented.
I would also advise you to read Michelle Diskin Bates book, Stand Against Injustice. Michelle is Barry George’s sister. It is an interesting and moving story. Michelle Diskin Bates has gone on to become a standard bearer for miscarriages of justice. We don’t need her to misdirect justice, however. Her credibility has recently taken a U turn; she has taken on the “plight” of the mass murderer Jeremy Bamber. She is now a respected “patron” and part of his naïve campaign team. Jeremy Bamber was convicted in 1986 for shooting to death his mother, father, sister and his two 6 year old nephews. Initially an inquest concluded it was his sister, Sheila Caffell who carried out the murders; Bamber had successfully made it look like a murder suicide. He fooled enough people initially but was eventually caught out. Hugely frustrated he has always insisted on his innocence.
If you don’t closely study the circumstances you would feel sorry for this suave, articulate and very convincing psychopath. Michelle has been drawn in, perhaps a little intoxicated with her well founded reputation. She has accepted the part without reading the script. That is surely dangerous ground. Please see my blog – Murders at Whitehouse Farm.
Towards the end of my first visit to Fulham I walked into Bishops Park to find the small café there. A young man was walking towards me. Sporting a white T- shirt, we could all reflect on the script which read,
“Don’t believe everything you think”.