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Who did kill Jill Dando? Documentary will see siblings relive tsunami of emotions

Michelle Diskin Bates, was getting ready to go to a prayer meeting in Cork on May 25, 2000, when she heard on the radio that her brother had been arrested in connection with the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando.

Ms Dando (37) was shot dead in broad daylight on the doorstep of her home in Fulham, West London, on April 26, 1999. A full year had passed before police made what appeared to be a major breakthrough in their search for the killer of the Crimewatch presenter.

Michelle had dropped her three children off at school on what had appeared to be an ordinary weekday morning when her life changed in an instant. A native of Fulham in London, she was juggling her coursework as a mature student with the needs of family life in her adopted home of Ballincollig, Co. Cork.

Michelle says that her “rosy cosy world” was replaced by a “plunge pool of icy water” when the newsreader said that a man called “Barry Bulsara” had been arrested in relation to the crime.

She was applying make-up and froze on the spot with the mascara wand in one hand. Her brother had taken to using that surname in his emails as it was the original name of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

Barry George entered custody following his arrest. He was subsequently convicted of the murder of Ms Dando in July of 2001. A tiny speck of gunpowder residue found in George’s pocket was central to his conviction.

Mr George was granted a retrial on appeal. The retrial judge was told that the speck of residue, although of the same type found on the victim, could have come from other sources. Barry George was unanimously acquitted by a jury in August 2008.

Barry George, who was cleared of murdering TV presenter Jill Dando, leaves the High Court in London with his sister Michelle Diskin, after he accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages over claims that he had pestered women he was obsessed with. File picture: Lewis Whyld/PA
Barry George, who was cleared of murdering TV presenter Jill Dando, leaves the High Court in London with his sister Michelle Diskin, after he accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages over claims that he had pestered women he was obsessed with. File picture: Lewis Whyld/PA

Both tried to get on with their lives — but now they’re back in the limelight. Michelle and Barry have been interviewed for the Netflix documentary series Who Killed Jill Dando? The three part series will launch on September 26.

Michelle, who campaigned for years for justice for her brother, said she hasn’t seen the final edit of the series.

“Whenever we embark on any of these things we never know what the ending is going to be. It is more important to be in it (the documentary) than not to be in it. We will see it at the same time as everyone else.”

She admits that it has been a “very long road” for both her family and the the loved ones of the victim. However, she knew from the start that Barry hadn’t committed the crime.

“24 years for Jill’s family and 23 years for us. Since they have no motive how can they have any idea who did it?

It is quite obvious from the method used that it was a professional hit. I don’t know how they (the police) decided they could take the local disabled man and sort of push him in there and hope that it would fill the gap. None of it made any sense.

“Barry’s dexterity is so poor. Firstly, Barry could not modify a gun and secondly he could not cleanly fire it into the left side of Jill’s head especially since he is right handed. And then to calmly walk away.

“He (Barry) has so many disabilities. There was no way he had the capability to do that (the murder).”

She said that it was ludicrous to even contemplate that Barry was responsible for such a “cleanly executed hit”.

“The person who shot Jill shot her below her left ear knowing that it would go all the way through and cause the most damage.

“With the amount and level of mental disability that was there since birth, Barry actually just couldn’t have done it. Because he would have become completely overwhelmed. Barry has got autism, he has got ADHD, he has got epilepsy and more. 

"Psychologists have spoken about Barry and have said that there is no way he could have calmly walked away from that. He is supposed to have evaded the police for a year while still living in the same place and still doing the same things every day.”

Michelle says nothing could have prepared the family for the tsunami of emotions they experienced following the arrest, conviction and subsequent acquittal of Barry.

“There is no preparation for it (how life changes.) I don’t think I could have gotten through it without having a breakdown if I hadn’t known that God was there and that God was still in control.

“My sister (Susan) had died some years earlier. She had similar disabilities to Barry. We are the only two (surviving) siblings. I felt a responsibility to support Barry and my mother.

Michelle Diskin: "It is more important to be in it (the documentary) than not to be in it." File photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Michelle Diskin: "It is more important to be in it (the documentary) than not to be in it." File photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

“My mother was alive when Barry was released so we were all able to be together in Ballincollig which was wonderful.”

Michelle is now based in Northampton in the UK having spent four decades in Cork. Barry lives in Cork, where he has a good support network. She hopes to one day see justice for Ms Dando. She also wants her brother to be able to continue to live his quiet life in a city which has been good to him.

In 2018 Michelle penned a book about the miscarriage of justice titled Stand Against Injustice — the Untold Story of the Family of Barry George. The book has gone back up the Amazon charts since the release of the Netflix documentary trailer.

She says the wrongs inflicted on Barry robbed her of “blind faith”.

“I would question (everything now). We do not take things just as they are — as they are being presented. We look behind. My reason for writing the book was because although I could tell people the truth I had no power to ensure that they (the media) would print what I said.

“But I had to go through the entire thing again. Every emotion had to be revisited so that was very difficult. It is a relief that nobody can change those words. Those are the words of our family.

“It was a constant stomach churn. That feeling ‘of oh my goodness, oh my goodness.’ I had it for years. I was always juggling. Which bed am I sleeping in? Which country and what is to be done today? What is the battle today? It was unbelievable.”

Gowan Avenue in Fulham, south west London, where the body of BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was found on April 26, 1999, outside her home. File photo: Peter J Jordan/PA
Gowan Avenue in Fulham, south west London, where the body of BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was found on April 26, 1999, outside her home. File photo: Peter J Jordan/PA

She is of the belief that Jill was killed by a callous person who was not known to her.

“Barry’s barrister Michael Mansfield (QC) said that it was quite obvious that the person had no intimate connection with Jill. She was opening her front door (when she was murdered).

“Somebody with any sort of connection would have waited until that door was open and would have pushed her inside. This person just despatched her.”

Meanwhile, Barry has spoken of the immense toll the case had on him and his loved ones. In a short snippet in the trailer for the series, he said so much was taken from him when he was wrongfully convicted of the murder.

It makes me angry that they have taken eight years of my life.

He has not received any compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned. However, he received substantial damages and an apology from the The Sun and the News of the World in 2009 over a series of articles which suggested that he was responsible for the killing and was a stalker.

Following his acquittal Mr George told Sky News that he felt sorry for the Dando family. He stated as “the local oddball” he was the “easiest target on the case.”

The new Netflix series blends archived footage, new research and interviews to revisit Ms Dando’s life, career, legacy and her murder.

Sun newspaper columnist Jane Moore can be heard expressing shock in the trailer for the series that police are no closer to finding the killer of Dando whom she called “The Golden Girl of Television”.

Barry George spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando. File photo: Yui Mok/PA
Barry George spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando. File photo: Yui Mok/PA

“To be sitting here 24 years on and saying that we still do not know who killed Jill Dando is mind-boggling.” Jill Dando was named BBC Personality of the Year in 1997 and presented shows such as Crimewatch, Holiday and the BBC’s Breakfast Time.

In 2019, friends and former colleagues gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of her death. Following her murder, an institute devoted to crime science was set up in her name at University College London.

But her killer is still at large. More than 2,000 people were identified as potential suspects in the high-profile case of “stranger homicide”.

Former Met Det, Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell, who led the investigation, told the BBC that sometimes they felt they were “a day away from solving” the case while on other occasions a breakthrough seemed “a long way away”.

Multiple conspiracy theories have surrounded the murder. One was that the killing was a vengeance attack on the BBC by Serbian terrorists in response to NATO’s attack on the Belgrade TV station. Another was that criminals exposed by Crimewatch had enacted their revenge.

Nigel Dando, brother of Jill, told The Times earlier this year he hoped the renewed surge of publicity surrounding the documentary will lead to a breakthrough in the case. Mr Dando, who will appear in the Netflix documentary, believes Jill was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

He feels the killing was opportunistic rather than a professional ‘hit’.

Last year, it was reported that Jill may have been murdered in a case of mistaken identity by a Russian hitman hired to kill another BBC journalist over an investigation into a French modeling agency.

 A new documentary about the murder of the television presenter Jill Dando will feature previously unseen material in a bid to tell the full story behind one of Britain's most high-profile unsolved killings, the BBC has said.
A new documentary about the murder of the television presenter Jill Dando will feature previously unseen material in a bid to tell the full story behind one of Britain's most high-profile unsolved killings, the BBC has said.

The theory was explored in French court papers. The speculation was that Jill was mistaken for journalist Lisa Brinkworth, who also lived in Fulham and was of similar appearance. Her doctor, Alan Farthing, was engaged to Ms Dando.

Mr Dando told the Times that the speculation was “fanciful”. “It’s as if someone has got one and one and made three. My personal feeling is that it was somebody looking for a kick and for notoriety.”

Ms Dando got engaged just three months before she was murdered. She was due to get married to Alan Farthing on September 25, 1999, having first met him on a blind date two years earlier.

Following the murder of his fiancee, Mr Farthing released a statement to BBC News in which he said that Jill was “admired by all who met her and adored by anyone who got to know her”.