The Crimewatch Murder
"We have many positive leads"
On April 26, 1999, police arrived at the Fulham home of Jill Dando, and there found the lifeless body of ‘the golden girl of British TV’ outside her front door, a single bullet wound to her head, the keys to her BMW convertible still in her hand. The inquiry into her murder conducted by the Metropolitan Police would be the largest criminal investigation since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. A prime suspect, Barry George, had a history of stalking women, sexual offences and other antisocial behaviour.
George was arrested and convicted at the Old Bailey for Dando’s murder, receiving a sentence of life imprisonment. Following an appeal and retrial, he was acquitted. Some believe George guilty of Dando’s murder, while others suspected her work on Crimewatch was a direct result of her murder by a contract killer, or even the retaliation for the UK’s involvement with NATO’s bombings committed in Serbia. Despite these theories, the senseless killing has continued to remain unsolved.
The British television show Crimewatch, produced by the BBC, reconstructed major unsolved crimes in order to gain information from the public that might assist with solving the case. First broadcast on June 7, 1984, Crimewatch aired once a month until the finally years before it was cancelled in March 2017. Hosted by Nick Ross for most of the shows existence, along with several co-hosts, one of which was Jill Dando, who co-presented the series from 1995 until 1999.
Such was the demand for cases to be shown on the programme, that many more were added to the Crimewatch website, and over the course of the its 25 year run, 57 murderers, 53 rapists and sex offenders, 18 paedophiles, and many others were captured as a direct result of Crimewatch appeals. Some of the most high profile criminal cases appeared on Crimewatch in an effort to help apprehend suspects, including the serial killer known as Bible John, murderer Kenneth Noye, the ‘Night Stalker’ Delroy Grant, and Michael Stone.
One case featured on the show, was that of Dando herself. Her Crimewatch appearance on the edition broadcast on April 20, 1999, would be Dando’s last, she was murdered six days later on April 26, by an unknown gunman. Her murder was reconstructed on the May 1999 programme, where an request for witnesses was made. It was this appeal, and the subsequent tips from the public, that led to police opening a new line of inquiry into the man who would become their prime suspect.
A much respected and admired television personality, Jill Dando began her career as a trainee reporter for the local weekly newspaper, the Weston Mercury, where both her father and brother worked. After five years as a print journalist, she started to work for the BBC, becoming a newsreader for BBC Radio Devon in 1985. That year, she transferred to BBC South West, where she began presenting a regional news magazine programme, Spotlight South West, and two year later she worked for Television South West, then BBC Spotlight in Plymouth.
By early 1988, Dando had moved from regional to national television in London to present BBC television news, specifically the short on-the-hour bulletins that aired on both BBC1 and BBC2 from 1986 until the mid-1990s. During the early 1990’s, Dando presented various BBC television programmes, including Breakfast Time, Breakfast News, the BBC One O’Clock News, the Six O’Clock News and the travel programme Holiday. From 1996, until her death, she was co-host of the crime appeal series Crimewatch alongside presenter Nick Ross.
In December 1997, Dando met gynaecologist Alan Farthing on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. At the time Farthing was separated from his wife, and by January 1999, several months after Farthing’s divorce was finalised, the couple announced their engagement at a party attended by Sir Cliff Richard, Nick Ross and Anna Ford, with the first interview being secured by OK! Magazine. Their wedding was set to take place on September 25, 1999.
Murder on the Doorstep
On the morning of April 26, 1999, Dando left Farthing’s home in Chiswick, and returned alone, by car, to the house she owned in Fulham. She had previously resided in the house, but by April 1999, was in the process of selling it and rarely visited the property. As she approached her door at about 11:32am, a man grabbed her from behind, forced her to the ground and shot her in the head with a 9mm calibre semi-automatic pistol. Fourteen minutes later, her body was found by neighbour Helen Doble, who called police.
When detectives and paramedics arrived on the scene at 11:47, Dando was taken to the nearby Charing Cross Hospital where she was declared dead on arrival at 13:03pm. The killing of the talented and much-loved presenter had shocked the nation. The Metropolitan Police launched a murder inquiry, Operation Oxborough, one of the largest criminal investigations the force had conducted since the manhunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. It would eventually involve the taking of 2,400 statements, the tracing of 1,200 cars and the investigation of 2,000 potential suspects.
The moments preceding and the aftermath of the murder were investigated by police as witnesses came forward with information. It was learned that at 10:03am, a postman delivering mail to Dando’s house in Fulham noticed he was being watched by a dark-haired man in a suit. At roughly the same time, a traffic warden patrolling the area spotted a blue Range Rover parked illegally. She began to write a ticked but stopped when the driver protested.
Over the next hour, the man in the suit and Range Rover driver were seen by several different people. At 11:30am, Dando is shot as she walked to her front door. Two witnesses reported seeing a man with thick dark hair and wearing a waxed jacket running away from the house. Several minutes later, CCTV images recovered by police show a blue Range Rover travelling at high speed down Fulham Palace Road, away from the scene of the murder.
A man is then spotted, at around 11:40am, crouching by some raillings in a nearby park, purtively talking on a mobile phone. Another witness reported that some ten minutes later they were forced to break hard when a man ran across the road, away from Dando’s street. During the early stages of the investigation, much of the attention, particularly in the media, focused on the men who had been romantically linked to Ms Dando, which might offer an explanation for her coldblooded murder.
Dando had lived with television producer Bob Wheaton, 14 years her senior, before their relationship ended, according to some accounts, because he tired of her frequent absences as she travelled the world on assignment for the Holiday programme. Then there was a young South African game warden named Simon Basil, with whom Ms Dando had enjoyed what she described as a “very Lady Chatterley” relationship.
Eventually, on a blind date, she met gynaecologist Alan Farthing, who she described as “the man I love”. However, there had been briefer flings between these three publicised romances, as police discovered when they started trawling through Ms Dando’s personal diaries. During the early stages of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell, who was leading the murder hunt, was quoted as saying: “Her career must be looked at, but I do not consider it to be of equal importance to her private life. We have many positive leads.”
But once these leads were thoroughly investigated, they turned up nothing, and all the men who Ms Dando had romances with were cleared. The murder investigation would uncover the kinds of sordid stories concerning a celebrity’s love life that provided many newspaper headlines, such as the story about an allegedly besotted Russian crime lord who had been the subject of speculation that he had ordered Ms Dando’s killing because she had rejected his advances while filming for the Holiday programme in Cyprus.
One potential lead had been given the day after the murder, which referred to a “mentally unstable man” who lived just 500 yards from Ms Dando’s home. Yet it would take detectives some ten months before they came to seriously consider this man as a suspect. The possible explanation for such a delay, was that those detectives who were investigating the murder of one of the BBC’s most popular stars, would naturally encounter an increase in media coverage which produced an avalanche of tips and suggestions, only a fraction of which were useful.
When detectives finally did begin to look into Barry George, they were surprised how much he started to fit the psychological profile provided in May 1999 by forensic criminal psychologist Dr Adrian West, who had urged police to look for an obsessive loner. George had previous convictions for attempted rape and indecent assault. On one occasion in the early 1980’s, he was found hiding in the bushes at Kensington Palace, wearing khaki, carrying a knife, a length of rope and a poem he had written to Prince Charles.
Investigators soon learned he was a fantasist, who had falsely claimed to be named ‘Barry Bulsara, the cousin of Queen singer Freddy Mercury’. In May 1980, he appeared in court dressed in glam rock clothing and falsely gave his name as Paul Gadd, the singer better known as Gary Glitter who was later exposed as a paedophile. He claimed his occupation was ‘unemployed musician’, and he said he was the former managing director of a company that oversaw three rock bands.
He had previously applied and failed to join the Metropolitan Police in 1980, and thereafter posed as a policeman, having obtained false warrant cards, for which he was arrested and prosecuted. George had some experience with firearms, and spent nearly a year in the Territorial Army, being taught how to maintain and shoot assault rifles and machine guns, before being discharged in November 1982. He had been arrested in both April 1990 and January 1992, and charged with assault, however neither case progressed to court.
Many women came forward and complained that he had stalked them, and when police searched his flat, they found many photographs of local women, and no fewer than four copies of the Jill Dando memorial issue of the BBC’s in-house magazine Ariel. During the search, an overcoat belonging to Barry George was taken as evidence. Inside the pocket, a forensic scientist found a tiny particle, which he said could be firearms residue from the gun used to kill Jill Dando.
The First Trial
Now convinced they had their man, police interviewed witnesses who could place Mr George near Ms Dando’s house on the day of the murder. He was also placed under surveillance, and later arrested on May 25, 2000. When questioned, George told them repeated lies about his whereabouts that day, but with evidence such as the firearms reside they believed they had ample proof of his guilt. He was charged on May 29, 2000 and the put on trial at the Old Bailey where he was convicted by a majority of 10 to one.
Handed a life sentence on July 2, 2001, and jailed, many thought the case solved, however there were some who believed the evidence was not sufficient to warrant his arrest and conviction. A subsequent appeal in July 2002 which addressed a number of different factors, such as witness testimony, scientific evidence and the role of the trial judge found that the verdict of the jury was not unsafe and the appeal was dismissed. In December 2002, the House of Lords refused to allow George permission to take his appeal to a higher court.
It wasn’t until some four years later, on March 25, 2006, that his solicitor claimed to have new evidence that would undermine the safety of George’s conviction. The following year, on June 20, 2007, George won the right to a new appeal after the Criminal Cases Review Commission found that too much weight had been placed on such a small amount of forensic evidence at the trial. His conviction was quashed on November 15, and a retrial is ordered after the Court of Appeal’s decision.
At his preliminary hearing George pleaded not guilty on December 14, 2007. The main point of contention against his conviction was the single particle of gunshot residue found in the coat pocket, which his defence argued could not be deemed conclusive proof that he had committed the crime. That evidence could have been the result of contamination when the coat was placed on a mannequin to be photographed as police evidence.
The Second Trial
Similarly the validity of psychiatric reports and witness evidence had been called into question. One witness alleged to have seen him in Dando’s street some four and half hours before her murder, while others claimed they saw him in the street two hours before, but failed to pick George out of an identity parade. His second trial began on June 9, 2008, and garnered a great deal of media attention because of the high profile nature of the case.
The case of the prosecution differed greatly from the first trial, in that there was practically no scientific evidence relating to the gunshot residue, which had been ruled inadmissible by the trail judge, Mr justice Griffith Williams. The court had been told by expert forensic science witnesses that it was “no more likely that the particle had come from a gun fired by Mr George, than that it had come from another source.” Much of the evidence centred on the bad character of George, which had been explored at length during the first trial.
William Clegg, leading the defence, reminded the jury about the evidence given by three women from the Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, who had reported seeing George arrive at their offices between 11:50 and 12:00pm. This would have made it impossible for him to have committed the murder which occurred at Dando’s house at 11:30am, then go to his home, which was was in the wrong direction, to change clothes.
In support of this, two neighbours who saw the killer immediately after the shooting said seen him walk off in that direction, later failed to pick out George during an identity parade. On August 1, 2008, Barry George was acquitted and released. Before the trial had begun, a senior CPS official was quoted as saying, “We looked for any [other] show stoppers. There weren’t any.” Despite gaining his freedom, George has remained angry about his conviction and ordeal at the hands of investigators.
It became known in April 2010, that the Ministry of Justice had denied a claim of 1.4 million in compensation made by George in relation to his wrongful imprisonment for Jill Dando’s murder. By August it was ruled by the High Court that George would be entitled to a judicial review of the claim. When the Supreme Court defined “miscarriage of justice” as evidence, George’s solicitor requested that then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke reconsider George’s claim for compensation.
However, in 2013 the High Court ruled against him and refused to compensate any money for his erroneous conviction and the years he spent behind bars, because the law states that compensation should only be paid when a new fact emerges to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an applicant did not commit the offence. During an interview with the Daily Mail he said, “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 has however fared better in winning damages from various tabloid newspapers over the many salacious allegations published about him. In December 2009, he accepted an undisclosed amount from Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers over articles published in The Sun and the News of the World. Further damages were awarded by the Mirror Group Newspapers concerning claims unrelated to the Dando investigation, that George had developed an obsession with singer Cheryl and newsreader Kay Burley.
Theories and Suspects
With the release of Barry George and the overturning of his conviction, the question remains, who was responsible for her brutal murder in April 1999. There have been several theories surrounding the circumstances of what has been considered by many to be a professional assassination by a contract killer. Perhaps the most enduring theory about the Dando murder concerns the involvement of a Serbian hitman, something that was proposed early on during the investigation, and was even published in at least one tabloid newspaper less than 48 hours after the presenter was murdered.
In support of the theory that the killer was a Government contracted hitman, is that Ms Dando had been killed by a single shot to the head, a method often considered the hallmark of a professional. The fact that the killer had managed to escape the scene of the crime, largely unseen, except by neighbours, who were later unable to identify him, is another factor that suggests a professional assassin.
It was the belief that Dando had angered some very violent people, who were able to call upon state support, in particular state security. On April 6, 1999, some twenty days before she was murdered, Dando fronted a BBC Kosovo Crisis Appeal that raised more than £1m in 24 hours for those fleeing the latest round of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. Western involvement in the Kosovo War had already begun, such as the NATO bombing of targets linked to Serb forces and their political leader Slobodan Milosevic.
In what is considered a similar crime with potential links to the Dando Murder, 49-year-old Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija was shot dead in front of his house in Belgrade by two masked men. On the night of April 23-24, 1999, just days before she was shot dead, British and US warplanes carried out the bombing the Radio Television Serbia building in Belgrade, killing 16 of the news organisation’s employees. The day after Dando’s murder, it emerged that Tony Hall, then the BBC’s head of news, and later the corporation’s director general, had been phoned by a man with an East European accent saying: “Your prime minister Blair butchered innocent young people, we butcher back.”
This theory would become the leading cornerstone of the defence at the original 2001 trial. George’s QC, Michael Mansfield, told the Old Bailey that as the face of both the Kosovo Crisis Appeal and the BBC, Ms Dando could have been been the target of a possible revenge killing ordered by the notorious Serbian warlord Arkan. The prosecution, however, dismissed the Serbian hitman theory as “headline grabbing … Utter nonsense”.
Although this theory still has many supporters, a number of subsequent reports have cast doubt as to it’s plausibility. Detectives investigating the Dando murder are said to have strongly suspected that the call to Tony Hall had been a hoax. During an investigation by the Daily Mail, who tracked down one of the strongest candidates for being the Serb hitman, he showed journalists what he had presented to UK police who visited him in 2009, a passport with entry and exit stamps suggesting he had been in Macedonia at the time of the killing.
It was also reported that the BBC’s veteran foreign correspondent John Simpson had been in Belgrade in 1999 and had actually met Arkan, whose real name is Zeljko Raznatovic, on the day Ms Dando had been killed. It has been aruged that if Arkan, who had himself been assassinated in January 2000, had really had wanted to assassinate a well-known BBC figure, it have been far easier to have murdered Simpson on the day of their meeting.
There have been suggestions that Ms Dando’s work as a Crimewatch presenter was the reason for her death, which was carried out by a professional closer to home. Once again that nature of the crime bore all the characteristics of a professional assassination, possibly even a gangland hit. In 2015 former Surrey police detective and TV investigative journalist Mark Williams-Thomas suggested that Ms Dando had been murdered on the orders of a London underworld ‘Mr Big’, in order to “send out a direct, bloody message to others… ‘Do not take on organised crime'”. Williams-Thomas added, “Jill may have signed her own death warrant through her work on Crimewatch.”
After searching through 52,000 documents that had been made available to George’s defence team during his second trial, Mr Williams-Thomas said he had found an intelligence report naming two London men as having acted on behalf of a major organised crime gang. These men were said to have broken the murder weapon into four pieces which they then dumped in a canal on their gang’s territory, one of London’s most prominent crime families. The intelligence report, however, was more ambiguous concerning their involvement. It stated that one of the men was subsequently identified, but detectives could find no link to the organised crime gang, while the other was seemingly never found.
During a programme that aired in 2017, Williams-Thomas was told by an anonymous man who claimed to be a hitman that he knew the criminal responsible for the killing, but refused to name him for fear of recriminations. During the show, the man was shown a list containing the names of 100 known criminals that Williams-Thomas had been given by police investigating Dando’s murder.
“There are names on here that I recognise, and there’s one in particular that stands out to me,” the man said, “But I wouldn’t identify that person because it’s very dangerous. I’m sure that they would come after me.” Williams-Thomas later said in an interview, “I am very confident the killer or person who organised the killings is in that inquiry team database.”
During the investigation, police did look into and discount up to 30 people with clear reason to resent Crimewatch, including many whose crimes had been covered on the show. Detectives visited convicted contract killers in jail who were questioned about likely suspects before the possibility of a revenge contract killing was rejected by police.
Investigators argued that criminals would be more likely to seek revenge on the more obvious targets, such as the actual ‘grass’ who supplied information, and the police who worked tirelessly in cracking the case, instead of a TV presenter. Most professional hitmen would ensure their target would be dead after firing multiple shots, instead of the single gunshot that killed Ms Dando.
In discounting the gangland revenge theory, is the detailed report prepared by the highly experienced Dr West a month after the murder, who suggested the killing was actually not as professional as it initially seemed. “Although the killing appears to have been carried out proficiently,” wrote Dr West, “An obvious contradiction is that the shell casing has been left at the scene. A professional who knew what he was doing would not have allowed [that to happen].”
The forensic examination of the shell casing and bullet would seem to suggest that the murder weapon was something similar to a modified starting pistol or a reactivated firearm with a low muzzle velocity, which is not the kind of gun you would find in the hands of a contract killer, who would be more likely use a more reliable handgun, that would be less likely to mis-fire or jam, and which would have the serial number removed.
Another theory surrounding the murder of Dando include the involvement of the IRA. Amongst the 52’000 pages of evidence made available to George’s legal team during the second trial was a letter admitting to the killing. Written by Wayne Aird, who was serving life for the murder of a man two months after Dando’s death, in which he confessed to being part of an “establishment cover-up”, and said the IRA was being allowed to get away with the murder in order to avoid destabilising the Northern Ireland peace process.
Over the years since the murder, other theories have been put forward to explain why Jill Dando was cold-bloodedly shot on the doorstep of her own home. The original theory adopted by detectives was that of a crazed stalker, who was most likely an obsessive fan. Dando’s neighbour Richard Hughes described his sighting of the killer as that of a 6ft white man aged around 40-years-of-age.
Hughes said that he heard a surprised cry from Dando, “like someone greeting a friend”, but claims he heard no gunshot. This statement has led some to the belief that Dando knew her killer. The Guardian reported that “she had been irritated by a number of obsessive fans”, during the time leading up to her death.
A suspect known as ‘Joe’ the Spanish barman surfaced from a report from the now defunct National Criminal Intelligence Service, that suggested Dando’s murder could be traced back to a gunman called Joe who worked in a bar in Spain and had links to murderer Kenneth Noye. Through the work of a Crimewatch appeal, Noye was sentenced to life in prison for a 1996 road rage killing.
The report went onto say: “Joe runs a bar in Tenerife, frequented by leading ex-pat criminals. He’s described as a frustrated gangster reputed to owe money to Kenny Noye. There’s been talk Joe has been keen to rehabilitate his reputation with gangster creditors.” The Daily Mirror reported that Joe “allegedly came to the UK specifically to carry out the crime”, although it “appears that Joe was never traced”.
One theory surrounds the belief that Dando’s death had been orchestrated by a paedophile ring, composed of powerful individuals. After the revelation of the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal, it was claimed that as part of her work as a journalist and television presenter on Crimewatch, Dando was reportedly trying to expose a VIP paedophile ring just months before her sudden death.
A source told the Daily Express that she had raised concerns to her BBC bosses about allegations of sexual abuse happening at the corporation. The source stated in 2014, “I don’t recall the names of all the stars now and don’t want to implicate anyone, but Jill said they were surprisingly big names.” The BBC has gone on record that it had seen nothing to substantiate these claims.