George was convicted at the Old Bailey then acquitted at a second trial
He is a shambling, dishevelled bear of a man, barely contained by a dark suit and overcoat. As Barry George talks in a low, throaty growl, the breeze picks at his white shirt tails and red tie.
Plus ca change. George had been dressed in identical fashion on the morning Jill Dando was murdered, he had suggested in the police witness statement he gave almost a year later.
Twenty years have passed since the killing. But in the troubled world of the only man ever charged with the crime — George was convicted at the Old Bailey then acquitted at a second trial — time appears to have stood still.
Now, though, he cuts a pathetic figure rather than one of any menace, as was alleged by police and prosecutors at the time. In these circumstances, why should he not today be considered the ‘other victim’ in Britain’s most sensational modern murder case?
On April 26, 1999, Miss Dando, the much-loved BBC Crimewatch presenter, was killed on her doorstep in Gowan Avenue, West London, by a single gunshot to the head. By the time George was cleared in the summer of 2008 he had already served seven years of a life sentence for the crime.
George had always craved fame. But this was unwanted notoriety, which in 2010 he fled for a new life in the Republic of Ireland. And that is where the Mail spoke to him, now aged 58, last week.
Much of what he told us during a conversation lasting more than an hour will not be quoted at his request, because of what he described as ‘ongoing legal cases’.
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BBC presenter Jill Dando was killed on her doorstep in Gowan Avenue, West London in April 1999
George, now aged 58, relocated to Ireland to seek a new life away from the notoriety brought by the case
What can be reported is that George — who has made numerous live TV appearances since his acquittal and was happy to speak to us — talked with passion about his continued ‘fight for justice’ and the lingering doubts on the part of officialdom which still assail him. Doubts which in 2013 saw the High Court rubber-stamp decisions by successive governments to refuse him even a penny of compensation for the years he spent behind bars.
Compensation is only paid when the court quashes a conviction because a new fact has emerged to show beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant did not commit the offence.
‘How can you be acquitted unanimously by judge and jury, which means you (regain) innocent status, but then get told you are not innocent enough?’ he asked us last week.
Barry George pictured before his original court appearance in 2001
‘How more innocent than innocent can a person be? I spent years in custody and then they have looked at the thing and decided I’m not innocent enough.’
Yesterday, in the second of our three-part reassessment of the Dando affair we looked at the murder investigation and the various colourful theories concerning the motive.
Indeed, in the first 12 months of the inquiry, Scotland Yard looked at and rejected almost 1,400 possible suspects. It was not until February 24, 2000, ten months after the murder, that having been tasked with examining previously unexplored leads, Detective Constable John Gallagher focused on a new name.
A directive called ‘Action No 1637’ had called for the tracing, identification and elimination from the inquiry of a man named ‘Barry Bulsara’.
In fact, Action 1637 dated from as far back as May 15, 1999, less than three weeks after the murder.
The order was in turn a result of an anonymous call received only one day after the killing. It concerned a ‘mentally unstable man’ who lived in Crookham Road, only 500 yards from Miss Dando’s home.
The detective then reviewed other messages linked to this previously ignored tip-off.
As a result, DC Gallagher visited an address at Crookham Road. It was the home of Barry George, but he was not there at the time. Neighbours told the policeman of George’s apparent links to the lead singer of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury. ‘Bulsara’ was Mercury’s real family surname. George claimed to be Freddie’s cousin. He was not.
Gowan Avenue, Fulham, was where Jill lived and where she was murdered on her doorstep. Pictured is police at the scene after the killing
It was not until April 11, 2000, that DC Gallagher finally caught up with George, in the street near his flat.
George admitted that he and Barry Bulsara were one and the same. He gave police a witness statement. Six days later, police executed a search warrant on his flat. What they found there would help see him end up in the dock on a murder charge.
After a year of frustrations, red herrings and dead ends Operation Oxborough seemed to have got its man, at last.
But the prosecution was to result in what George’s sister Michelle Diskin Bates has called ‘one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice cases in recent British legal history’.
Barry Michael George was born in West London in April 1960 to a special police constable father and an Irish cleaner mother. He was the third of three children in a family which fell apart on their parents’ acrimonious divorce in 1967. George’s father would later remarry and emigrate to Australia.
The young boy had his own particular challenges. There would be diagnoses of epilepsy and personality disorders. From the age of five he attended a local school for children with educational and behavioural problems. At 12, he was moved to a residential special school in Ascot. At age 16, he left with no qualifications.
Back living with his mother, he held a number of low-grade jobs. One was as an internal messenger at the BBC television centre in West London.
George lasted only five months there. But it was the start of an intense interest in the organisation which had given the struggling teenager a brief first-hand contact with the world of celebrity. For years afterwards, he would call at the BBC’s Wood Lane offices to collect a copy of Ariel, the staff magazine. He also began to reinvent himself as a somebody of substance, importance, of heroism and glamour. Everything he was not.
Barry George, who spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando, pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, England, where he lost his legal battle for compensation
One manifestation of this make-believe world was his conviction in 1980 for impersonating a police officer. But his fantasies became more ambitious. Around this time he changed his name by deed poll to Paul Gadd — the real name of the since disgraced pop star, Gary Glitter. In this persona, George told his local newspaper he had won the British Karate Championship by breaking 47 tiles with his bare feet.
Next, he changed his name to Steve Majors. This was an amalgamation of the name of the American actor Lee Majors and that of his most famous role as Steve Austin in the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man.
Under this identity, George managed to pull off an indisputably dangerous stunt of which, he told the Mail last week, he is still proud.
On a windswept night near Nottingham in 1981, before 5,000 spectators, George roller-skated down a ramp and leapt across four double-decker buses, landing in a heap on the far side.
George served several years in prison after his initial conviction
He got up and punched the air as the crowd applauded far below. For once, Barry George was a genuine risk-taking hero. One can well imagine this to have been the best moment of his life. He has asked the Mail for a copy of the film of the event.
There would be other personas and more baseless yarns to impress those he met, particularly young women.
He liked to say he had been a member of the SAS. Indeed, he assumed the identity of Thomas Palmer, one of the SAS soldiers who had taken part in the 1980 Iranian embassy siege, and the Falklands War two years later.
This fantasy reflected his interest in the military and guns.
In December 1981, he enlisted in the Territorial Army. By the time he was rejected the following November he had attended a number of training days in which he was taught to maintain and shoot assault rifles and machine guns.
During this period, George also joined the Kensington and Chelsea Pistol Club as a probationary member. He attended on eight occasions before his application was not accepted.
His Walter Mitty stories and attempts at derring-do masked a darker side to George’s personality. In 1981, he was charged with indecent assault after grabbing a woman’s breasts in a car park. ‘Paul Gadd, unemployed entertainer,’ was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was acquitted of assaulting another woman, an actress, on the same day.
The following year he sexually assaulted a modern languages undergraduate having followed her to the door of her mother’s home.
At the Old Bailey under the name ‘Steven Majors’, the 22-year-old George pleaded guilty to attempted rape. He was jailed for 33 months, of which he served 18.
Soon after his release he was found by police hiding in bushes in the grounds of Kensington Palace, then the home of Princess Diana. George was wearing a combat jacket and carrying a 12-inch hunting knife and 50 feet of rope. Somewhat surprisingly, he was released uncharged.
Jill Dando pictured aged 26 joined the BBC Breakfast Time to read the news with John Stapleton. The Serbian line of inquiry drew MI5 and MI6 into Operation Oxborough — the codename for the Dando murder investigation
In Stand Against Injustice, the book Barry George’s sister Michelle Diskin Bates has written about her brother’s case, she described these paramilitary escapades: ‘Barry’s interest in guns and all things military was born of our family’s long association with the Armed Forces. He’d have loved to be able to follow his dad’s footsteps into the Army or the Royal Marines, he wanted to excel, but even the Territorial Army had to let him go because of his disabilities.’
These eccentricities would be seized upon by the police when they set about building a murder case against him. Now let us move on to the spring of 2000. In his witness statement, given on April 11, George said that on the day of the murder he had been at home all morning before going to a disability charity’s office at 12.30pm-12.45pm. Jill was shot at around 11.30am that day.
It was an alibi, but not a strong one.
Of his attire he said ‘I wore either my dark suit with a white shirt and a red tie and a black overcoat or… jeans.’
When police subsequently searched George’s flat in Crookham Road they found what they thought was an evidential goldmine.
Among the piles of clutter and rubbish were scores of rolls of undeveloped film. These contained 2,248 photographs of 419 young women, largely taken on the streets of West London. George had stalked them, taking pictures surreptitiously and trying to discover where they lived.
Often he would approach his target and try to engage in conversation, or ask her out for a drink. When rebuffed he could become verbally aggressive or simply ignore requests to leave them alone. Some were told ‘I know where you live’.
The Mail can reveal that some 98 women would later come forward to allege they were harassed by George. Some were left with deep psychological scars.
Jill (pictured on holiday in the Seychelles) first got her big break in broadcasting in 1988 when she started presenting the BBC's hourly national bulletins
His sister would write: ‘There is no doubt that Barry’s behaviour has been bizarre and unacceptable, but it was normal for him.
‘Forming relationships is a challenge for most people on the autism spectrum, although this can’t absolve him of responsibility for his actions.
‘Barry always looks suspicious; he stands out like a sore thumb, and he can’t see this himself.’
Among the cache of photographs were those of female celebrities, taken from television screens. There were none of Jill Dando, however, although police found four copies of the BBC’s Ariel magazine published the day after the murder, with a portrait of Jill on the cover.
There was also a photo of a man — which police say was George — wearing a military respirator and holding a modified blank firing pistol. (George admitted in a police interview that it may have been him.) The gun was of a kind similar to that which was used, police believed, to kill Jill. While police found no firearms among George’s possessions there was a holster for a pistol along with handwritten lists of blank firing weapons and various military or gun-devoted magazines.
One more piece of evidence would prove in the minds of detectives and prosecutors that George was the killer.
In the pocket of a dark blue Cecil Gee overcoat they allegedly found a tiny grain of firearms discharge residue (FDR). Forensic tests would allegedly show it to be of the same type that would be fired by the type of gun suspected to have killed Jill. FDR of the same kind was found on the victim’s hair and the cartridge found at the scene.
At 6.30am on May 25, 2000, George was arrested on suspicion of murder.
In interviews he protested his innocence. He said he had no idea who Jill Dando was, nor where she