Owing to the immense popularity of the victim there was exceptional outrage from the public, who were impatient for a conviction. In the absence of other suspects, George attracted police attention because many elements in his background seemed to point to his guilt, although the only actual evidence was a tiny speck of material that may or may not have been gunshot residue. He was convicted of murder, but his conviction was subsequently judged unsafe by the Court of Appeal and was quashed in 2007. After a retrial, he was acquitted on 1 August 2008, though his claims for compensation for wrongful imprisonment were dismissed.
Barry George was born in Hammersmith Hospital, London, to Alfred and Margaret (née Burke), who is Irish. The couple had married in July 1954. He was the youngest of three children; they grew up in a high-rise flat in White City, London. His sister Michelle Diskin, who lives in the Republic of Ireland, is five years older than he is; his sister Susan, three years older than he is, died of epilepsy aged 28 in 1986. George also suffers from epilepsy. He attended Wormholt Park Primary School in White City, but was soon transferred to Northcroft School for children with educational and behavioural disorders in Hammersmith. His parents split up when he was seven and divorced in December 1973. At 14, he attended the publicly funded Heathermount boarding school in Sunningdale, Berkshire, for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. After leaving school without qualifications, his only employment was as a messenger at BBC Television Centre for four months in 1977. His interest in the BBC endured until his arrest; he was a regular reader of the in-house magazine Ariel, and had reportedly kept four copies of the memorial issue which featured Jill Dando's murder. George has exhibited an interest in celebrities, including Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince Charles. He adopted several pseudonyms, starting at school, where he used the name Paul Gadd, the real name of singer Gary Glitter. In 1980, George joined the Territorial Army, but was discharged the following year. He claimed to be SAS member Tom Palmer, one of the soldiers who ended the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege. George's father remarried and emigrated to Australia. The couple subsequently moved to Wales, where they still live. George's mother reverted to using her maiden name; she died in Ireland in September 2011.
Previous criminal convictions and investigations
George began impersonating famous figures in the early eighties. He appeared in a local newspaper claiming to be the winner of the British Karate Championship. He gave his name as 'Paul Gadd' and his occupation as 'a singer with the band Xanadu and a session musician with the Electric Light Orchestra'. He was exposed as a fraud by another newspaper. He then assumed the identity of the cousin of Electric Light Orchestra singer Jeff Lynne. In 1980, George failed in his attempt to join the Metropolitan Police. Shortly after, he posed as a policeman, having obtained false warrant cards. For this he was arrested and prosecuted. In May 1980, he appeared in court clad in glam rock clothing and untruthfully stated his name to be Paul Gadd, a revival of his Gary Glitter fixation and the name under which he was charged. At Kingston Magistrates' Court he was convicted and fined £25. George was charged and in June 1981, acquitted of indecent assault against one woman, and convicted of indecent assault against another woman, for which he received a three-month sentence, suspended for two years.
He assumed the identity of 'Steve Majors' and claimed to be a stuntman; he once injured himself attempting to jump over four double-decker buses on roller skates. In March 1983 George was convicted at the Old Bailey under the pseudonym of 'Steve Majors' for the February 1982 attempted rape of a woman in Acton, for which he served 18 months of a 33-month sentence. On 10 January 1983, as was revealed after his arrest for the Dando murder, George had been found in the grounds of Kensington Palace, at that time the home of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. He had been discovered hiding in the grounds wearing a balaclava and carrying 50 feet of rope, a 12 inch hunting knife, and in possession of a poem he had written to Prince Charles.
On 2 May 1989 at Fulham register office, George married a 35-year-old Japanese student, Itsuko Toide, in what Toide described as a marriage "of convenience – but nonetheless violent and terrifying." After four months she reported to the police that he assaulted her. On 29 October 1989, George was arrested and charged, but the case was dropped and did not go to court; the marriage ended in April 1990. Toide moved back to Japan.
Following the death of Freddie Mercury, George assumed the name of Barry Bulsara (Mercury's real surname) and claimed to be the singer's cousin. He would visit Mercury's home and approach female fans; this happened so often that the Queen International Fan Club called the police to report George.
Before his trial, George was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Prosecution psychologists studying George since his arrest for the Dando murder claimed that he was suffering from several different personality disorders: antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic and possibly paranoid, as well as somatization and factitious disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was said to have an IQ of 75 and suffer from epilepsy. George has also been likened to a "lone obsessive, Walter Mitty-type figure" for his desire to impersonate famous figures.
Overturned conviction for murder of Jill Dando
Jill Dando was shot dead outside her home on 26 April 1999. George (who at the time of the murder lived in a ground floor flat in Crookham Road, Fulham) was arrested for her murder on 25 May 2000, and charged on 29 May 2000. He was convicted by a majority of ten to one, and given a sentence of life imprisonment on 2 July 2001. This verdict was considered unsafe by some observers at the time.
In 2002, the Court of Appeal's judgment on the appeal, having addressed a number of grounds including eyewitness testimony, scientific evidence, and the role of the trial judge, concluded that the verdict of the jury was not unsafe and that appeal was dismissed.
In March 2006, George's lawyers sought an appeal on fresh evidence based on medical examinations suggesting he was not capable of committing the crime because of his mental disabilities. The defense brought in neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman to dispute the prosecution's claim that George showed signs of "histrionics, paranoia and narcissism" and had a personality disorder. Kopelman testified that "[He] described to me that he can be aware of what's going on around him but he just can't respond," and concluded that George was not calculating enough to have committed the crime. A second defence argument was that two new witnesses say they saw armed police at the scene when George was arrested, contrary to official reports about the circumstances of his arrest – the Metropolitan Police maintain there were no armed officers present during the arrest of George. There was scientific evidence linking Barry George to the murder in the form of a single microscopic particle of what was said to have been gunshot residue, together with evidence as to the character of a fibre found on his clothing. It was argued by the defence that the presence of armed officers and their involvement in his arrest might have been responsible for the gunshot residue.
In September 2006, following investigations by George's campaigners and a Panorama documentary about the conviction (conducted by miscarriage of justice victim Raphael Rowe), first broadcast in the UK on 5 September 2006 and which included an interview with the foreman of the trial jury, fresh evidence was submitted to the Criminal Cases Review Commission by the programme-makers and by Barry George's solicitor. The evidence concerned scientific analysis of the alleged gunshot residue, eyewitness evidence, and psychiatric reports.
On 20 June 2007, the Criminal Cases Review Commission announced that it would refer George's case to the Court of Appeal. On 22 August 2007, George was refused bail prior to the hearing, which subsequently began on 5 November 2007. One of the defence team's main grounds of appeal was that the single particle of gunshot residue in the coat pocket was not evidence which conclusively linked George to the crime scene; it could have appeared as a result of contamination of the coat when it was placed on a mannequin to be photographed as police evidence.
On 7 November 2007 the Court of Appeal reserved judgement in the case and on 15 November 2007 announced that the appeal was allowed and the conviction quashed.
In summary, the reasoning of the Court was that at the trial the prosecution had relied primarily on four categories of evidence:
- One witness who had identified him as being in Jill Dando's street four and a half hours before the murder and other witnesses who, although they could not pick George out at an identity parade, saw a man in the street in the two hours before the murder who might have been George;
- Alleged lies told by George in interview;
- An alleged attempt to create a false alibi;
- The single particle of firearm discharge residue (FDR) found, about a year after the murder, in George's overcoat.
The prosecution had called expert witnesses at the trial whose evidence suggested that it was likely that the particle of FDR came from a gun fired by Barry George rather than from some other source.
Those witnesses and other witnesses from the Forensic Science Service told the Court of Appeal that this was not the right conclusion to draw from the discovery of the particle of FDR. It was instead no more likely that the particle had come from a gun fired by Barry George than that it had come from some other source. The Court of Appeal concluded that, if this evidence had been given to the jury at the trial, there was no certainty that the jury would have found George guilty. For this reason his conviction had to be quashed.
A retrial was ordered and George was remanded in custody, making no application for bail.
George appeared before the Old Bailey on 14 December 2007 and again pleaded not guilty to the murder. His retrial began on 9 June 2008. Initially there was a large amount of coverage in the press, especially of the prosecution portrayal of the defendant as being highly obsessive, lacking in social skills and a danger to women. The prosecution case differed from that of the first trial in that there was practically no scientific evidence as the evidence relating to the FDR was ruled inadmissible by the trial judge (Mr Justice Griffith Williams). There was much evidence of George's bad character which was admitted in the re-trial (at the discretion of the trial judge) as a result of the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 since the original trial. There were delays due to legal arguments and to the illnesses of the defendant and one of the jurors. For the defence William Clegg QC reminded the jury that evidence from three women from HAFAD (Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability) placed the defendant's arrival at their offices at 11:50 or 12:00, which, according to Clegg's argument, would have made it impossible for him to have committed a murder at Dando's house at 11:30 and then gone home (in the wrong direction) to change. Two neighbours who almost certainly saw the murderer immediately after the shooting had seen him go off in this direction, and later failed to identify George at an identification parade. The trial ended with George's acquittal on 1 August 2008.
Life after Dando acquittal
On multiple occasions George has won substantial damages from tabloid newspapers over various allegations published about him, at least twice pursuing these libel claims to the High Court. In December 2009, following mediation, he accepted an undisclosed amount from Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers over articles published in The Sun and the News of the World. In May 2010 Mirror Group Newspapers settled with George after claims, unrelated to the Dando murder, that he had developed an obsession with singer Cheryl Cole and newsreader Kay Burley.
In April 2010 it emerged that the Ministry of Justice had denied a claim of £1.4 million compensation made by George in respect of his wrongful imprisonment for Jill Dando's murder. The decision was made by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary at the time, and in August 2010 the High Court ruled that George is entitled to a judicial review of the matter.
On 11 May 2011 in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court defined "miscarriage of justice" as evidence "so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based upon it". This decision cleared the way for George's solicitor, Nicholas Baird, to request that the then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke "consider afresh" George's claim for compensation, applying the new test set out by the Court. The claim was heard in the High Court, but in their summing up, judges Lord Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Irwin said: "There was indeed a case upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted the claimant of murder", and, on the strength of this, denied George compensation for wrongful incarceration.
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- BBC News Jill Dando Trial in Depth
- innocent.org — First Interview with Barry George in prison
- Article by Scott Lomax questioning Barry George's conviction