In April 1999, BBC presenter Jill Dando was shot dead on the doorstep of her Fulham home. Her death shook the nation and made headlines around the world – not least because of the massive police manhunt that took place to find her killer.
After following several leads, police eventually arrested Barry George, a local man who was eventually convicted of her murder – before being sensationally acquitted in 2008.
Who is Barry George?
Born in Hammersmith in 1960, George was the youngest of three children. He had a troubled upbringing: from 14, he attended Heathermount boarding school in Berkshire, a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. However, he left school without qualifications, initially starting work for the BBC as a messenger on a six month contract and leaving after five.
Following that, George seems to have gotten into trouble with the Metropolitan Police several times for impersonating celebrities and police officers – on one occasion, he claimed to be Paul Gadd, the real name of disgraced entertainer Gary Glitter.
Despite that, he attempted to join the Metropolitan Police in 1980 (the same year he was fined for impersonating Gadd); after being rebuffed, he obtained false warrant cards and attempted to impersonate a police officer. This ended with him being fined and appearing in court.
That same year, he signed up for the Territorial Army, but was discharged in 1981 – after which he impersonated SAS soldier Tom Palmer, who helped end the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege. In March 1983, he served 18 months of a 33 month sentence for attempted rape in February 1982 - and barely two months beforehand, he had been discovered hiding in the grounds of Kensington Palace, clutching a poem he had written for Prince Charles.
Just before facing trial for Dando’s murder, George was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, in addition, prosecution psychologists found he had ADHD and several different personality disorders, including antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic and possibly paranoid.
Barry George and the Jill Dando case
After Dando was shot and killed, police zeroed in on George, who lived nearby in Fulham and had a long list of offences to his name. He was arrested in May 2000 and found guilty of her murder in May 2001, for which he was sentenced to life in prison.
George did attempt to appeal in 2002, with his legal team arguing that the forensic evidence used in the trial (George had a particle of gunshot residue in his jacket pocket) was unreliable. Though this was quashed, he did appeal again four years later. This time, his legal team suggested that fresh evidence showed George’s mental disabilities meant he wasn’t capable of committing the crime.
Eventually, in 2007, the appeal was allowed and the conviction was overturned; in 2008 George was acquitted in a retrial on the basis that evidence given in the original trial couldn’t be taken into consideration. One of his lawyers, Jeremy Moore, later said one of the first things Goerge said after being cleared were, “I can’t believe it.”
What happened to Barry George afterwards?
After being released from prison, George moved to Ireland in 2010, to be closer to his sister. Since then he has talked several times about the anger he felt at losing so many years of his life to the case, as well as having to look over his shoulder after being acquitted. "I was living in fear – nobody should have to live like that,” he said in 2018.
“There are probably a select few people who may think, “Ok, he’s been through the case. He’s got off on a technicality, probably, or whatever.” But my conscience was clear – I knew I hadn’t done it,” he told an ITV documentary on the case.
“I find it sad that they done what they’ve done to me and that they didn’t have no sound evidence. The truth of the real killer is somewhere out there.”
Who Killed Jill Dando? is streaming now on Netflix