How Jill Dando murder suspect Barry George wearing gas mask and holding pistol in photo led police to believe fantasist shot presenter dead in 1999 before conviction was quashed… as Netflix series is to examine cold case
- George had claimed to be the cousin of Queen singer Freddie Mercury
- In July 2001, George was found guilty of Ms Dando’s murder
- But in 2008, he was acquitted at retrial after doubts raised about conviction
It was a photograph which would raise the suspicions of any police officer.
Dressed menacingly in a leather jacket and gas mask, with blank-firing pistol in hand, Barry George looked like he could be a killer, police believed.
The picture – found in his flat among thousands of images of hundreds of women he had stalked on West London’s streets – contributed to the Metropolitan Police’s view that he had murdered TV presenter Jill Dando.
The much-loved Crimewatch presenter was shot dead on her doorstep in Fulham, West London, in April 1999 and the cold case is set to be explored in Netflix documentary Who Killed Jill Dando?
In the recently-released trailer, George – who had claimed to be the cousin of Queen singer Freddie Mercury – is seen being asked about the picture by detectives after his arrest on suspicion of murder.
When he says ‘it could be anyone’, they reply: ‘That’s a picture of you Mr George.’
The image helped police to build a case against him and and he was convicted of Ms Dando’s murder in 2001, after officers had found a single grain of gunshot residue in his coat pocket.
But doubts always remained about whether he was really guilty and in 2008 he was acquitted at a retrial after his initial conviction was quashed.
It was a photograph which would raise the suspicions of any police officer. Dressed menacingly in a leather jacket and gas mask, with blank-firing pistol in hand, Barry George, looked like he could be a killer, police believed
She was Britain’s best loved TV presenter who was shot dead in cold blood on her doorstep. Jill Dando’s murder on April 26, 1999, shocked the nation and became one of the most high profile and complex police investigations in British history
George’s calls for compensation for his imprisonment and wrongful conviction have been consistently rebuffed since then.
READ MORE: ‘They’ve taken eight years of my life’: Barry George expresses fury at being wrongly convicted of Jill Dando’s murder in trailer for upcoming Netflix documentary about presenter’s killing in 1999
Ms Dando’s murder became one of the most high profile and complex police invstigations in British history.
But police never arrested any other suspect and the case remains unsolved.
Born in West London in April 1960, George’s early life had been defined by his parents’ acrimonious divorce.
He attended a school for children with educational and behavioral problems and by the age of 16 had left education with no qualifications.
Just a day after Ms Dando’s killing, police received an anonymous call concerning a ‘mentally unstable man’ who lived just 500 yards from the presenter’s home.
As a result of that, police had made an order for the tracing and identification of George, who was then known as Barry Bulsara.
However, this lead was not followed up until ten months after Ms Dando’s murder.
When the line of inquiry was looked into by Detective Constable John Gallagher, neighbours told him of George’s apparent links to Queen lead singer Mercury.
George in the documentary, and right, being questioned by detectives over the image of him in the gas mask
George was convicted at the Old Bailey then acquitted at a second trial. Above: George near his home in Ireland in 2019
Ms Dando (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
At the time of her death, she was best known for co-presenting the BBC One programme Crimewatch with Nick Ross
Tragic: BBC Crimewatch presenter Jill was tragically shot in the head outside her west London home in 1999, prompting Britain’s biggest police investigation since the Yorkshire Ripper
For Mercury’s real family surname was Bulsara. George was falsely claiming that he was Mercury’s cousin.
READ MORE: Jill Dando’s brother ‘hopes Netflix series about the Crimewatch host’s murder will help finally crack the case’ more than 20 years after she was gunned down on her doorstep
In around 1980 – after being convicted of impersonating a police officer – George had initially changed his name by deed poll to Paul Gadd – the real name of the since disgraced pop star, Gary Glitter.
Shortly afterwards, he told his local newspaper that he had won the British Karate Championship by breaking 47 tiles with his bare feet.
He went on to change his name to Steve Majors. This new identity was a mash-up of American actor Lee Majors and the star’s most famous character, Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man tv series.
It was while known as Lee Majors that, in 1981, George roller-skated down a ramp and leapt across four double-decker buses in front of 5,000 spectators.
As the crowd applauded, he punched the air and lapped up the praise.
But George quickly moved on to other personas, which he backed up with baseless stories.
He claimed he had been in the SAS, assuming the identity of Thomas Palmer, one of the men who had taken part in the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege and then the Falklands War.
In December 1981, George enlisted in the territorial army, where he was taught to shoot and maintain assault rifles and machine guns.
However, he was rejected the following November.
These are the haunting last images of Ms Dando, pictured just 40 minutes before she was assassinated outside her home
She was also spotted outside on the main High Street where she had been out shopping for the day
Another image shows her walking through the shopping centre with her raincoat and bag
George’s application to join the Kensington and Chelsea Pistol Club was also rejected after he had joined as a probationary member.
Britain’s biggest police probe since the Yorkshire Ripper: Timeline of the Jill Dando case
April 26, 1999: Jill Dando, the 37-year-old television presenter, is shot dead with a single bullet to the head on the steps of her home in Fulham, south-west London.
May 25, 2000: Police arrest Barry George, also known as Barry Bulsara, following surveillance of his home.
May 29, 2000: Police charge George with murdering Dando.
July 2, 2001: A jury finds George guilty of murder. He is later sentenced to life imprisonment.
July 29, 2002: George loses an appeal against his conviction at the Court of Appeal in London. Three judges rejected his claim that his conviction was ‘unsafe’.
December 16, 2002: The House of Lords refuses permission for George to mount a further challenge to his conviction.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) continues to look at the case.
March 25, 2006: It emerges that lawyers for George have submitted new evidence to the CCRC which they believe undermines the safety of his conviction.
They say they have new medical evidence which suggests George’s mental problems would have made him incapable of carrying out the crime, and that new witnesses who were not heard at the original trial may provide an explanation for why a particle of gunshot residue was found on his coat.
August 1, 2008: He receives a unanimous acquittal by a jury after being granted a retrial.
January 2010: His claim for compensation for lost earnings and wrongful imprisonment is rejected.
2012: Serbian ‘warlord’ Arkan is named as a suspect in the case, although he had died in 2000.
June 2022: French court documents claim that BBC journalist Lisa Brinkworth was the target of a hit ordered by modelling agency boss Gerald Marie but was confused for Miss Dando. He denies the claims.
In 1981, George was charged with indecent assault after grabbing a woman’s breasts in a car park and was given a three-month suspended prison sentence.
The following year he sexually assaulted a university student after following her to the door of her mother’s home.
At the Old Bailey he pleaded guilty to attempted rape and was jailed for 33 months, but spent 18 behind bars.
Soon after his release he was discovered in the grounds of Kensington Palace, which was then the home of Princess Diana.
He was wearing a combat jacket and carrying both a 12-inch hunting knife and 50feet of rope.
In April 2000, DC Gallagher finally tracked down George near his flat.
Having admitted that he and Barry Bulsara were the same person, George gave police a witness statement, which led them to execute a search warrant on his flat.
There they found scores of rolls of undeveloped film containing 2,248 photographs of 419 young women.
All had been taken surreptitiously as George stalked the women in West London, trying to find out where they lived.
He would often try to engage them in conversation first, but when rebuffed become verbally aggressive.
The Daily Mail previously revealed how 98 women later came forward to allege they were harassed by George.
Defending him in her book Stand Against Justice, his sister Michelle said: ‘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.’
George’s photographs included those of female celebrities taken from television screens. Ms Dando was not among them.
Police did however find four copies of the issue of BBC’s Ariel staff magazine that had been published the day after Ms Dando’s murder.
George had briefly worked at the BBC as an internal messenger, and for years afterwards had returned to the corporation’s Wood Lane offices pick up copies of the magazine.
Also among the items of interest was the photo of George in the military respirator.
He was holding a modified blank firing pistol which was of a similar kind to the one that police believed was used to kill Ms Dando.
Although George did not have a firearm among his possessions, police did find a holster for a pistol along with handwritten lists of blank firing weapons.
However, it was the tiny grain of firearms discharge residue (FDR) in the pocket of an overcoat that convinced officers George was the killer.
Tests would allegedly later show it to be of the same type that would be fired by the type of gun that was suspected to have killed Ms Dando.
FDR of the same kind was also found on Ms Dando’s hair and the cartridge found at the scene.
The evidence led police to arrest George on suspicion of murder on May 25, 2000.
In interviews he insisted he had no idea who Ms Dando was, nor where she lived until the murder.
He added that he had never seen her in real life. This claim was not believed by police.
George also denied ever having owned any imitiation firearms – a fact that was contradicted by the photo of him in the respirator.
Police pictured outside the home of Ms Dando in 1999 following her murder
Six distinctive marks were found on the cartridge case used by the gunman who killed Jill Dando
He did eventually admit to having owned more than one of these weapons.
On May 29, 2000, George was charged with Ms Dando’s murder.
This was despite the fact that no one had seen Ms Dando’s killing and witness testimony was inconsistent.
One witness had been ‘100 per cent’ certain that they had seen George in the street, although hours before the murder.
In addition, the gun used in the murder had not been found, nor has it been since.
But, on July 2, 2001, George was found guilty by a 10-1 majority of Ms Dando’s murder.
However, doubt was quickly cast on the firearms discharge residue. Some critics said there may have been another source of contamination.
Although George’s first appeal against his conviction was dismissed in 2002, in 2007 the Criminal Case Review Commission referred it back to the Court of Appeal.
The conviction was quashed and retrial began in 2008.
This time, the FDR evidence was not admitted as evidence in the prosecution’s case, despite the fact that the previous conviction had hinged on it.
Subsequent analysis had led to doubts about its importance. Retrial judge Mr Justice Griffith Williams was told the speck of residue could have come from other sources.
The jury was not told about his attempted rape conviction, but some of the evidence about his harassment of women was allowed.
George’s barrister, William Clegg QC, told the jury that he was incapable of committing such a ‘meticulously planned, carefully prepared and successfully executed [murder] by a coldblooded killer’.
Painting him as the police’s fall guy, he described George as ‘the local loner, the local nutter, the man with serious psychological problems’.
Police forensic officers at Gowan Avenue, Fulham, where TV presenter Jill Dando was murdered
On August 1, 2008, George was unanimously acquitted.
In early 2010, the then Justice Secretary Jack Straw rejected George’s bid for compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
Mr Straw told George’s legal team: ‘It is clear that there was evidence on which a jury, properly directed, could have convicted the proposed defendant.
‘Nothing emerged during the course of the retrial to demonstrate that the proposed claimant was clearly innocent of the offence.’
The decision was backed by new Tory Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and in 2013 a judicial review further confirmed the decision.
Speaking to the Daily Mail from his home in Dublin in 2019, George furiously questioned the ongoing refusal to pay him compensation for the years he spent in prison.
Compensation is only issued when a court quashes a conviction because a new fact has emerged or it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that an 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 said.
‘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.’
One of the leaflets that was handed out in an effort to trace Ms Dando’s killer
Speaking in the new trailer for the Netflix documentary, he adds: ‘It makes me angry that they have taken eight years of my life.’
Speaking in 2019, Ms Dando’s neighbour Vida Saunders recalled the moment she discovered the presenter’s body.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘Jill’s body was lying at such an odd angle.
‘She looked like she had collapsed on the spot. The back of her head was against the front door and her chest was facing towards the pavement.
‘She was in a pool of blood, and I noticed her lips were blue and there were some small drips of blood running from her nose. I think we knew immediately that she was critically injured.
‘She was still clutching a set of keys in one hand, probably her door keys or possibly her car keys.
‘The handles of her handbag were over the other arm and her mobile phone was inside, ringing constantly.
‘Normally, I think, if you saw someone collapsed like that, your instinct would be to reach out and touch them, to try to help them and see if they are all right.
‘But it was clear Jill wasn’t [all right].’
She added: ‘That image of Jill lying there. . . I would have visions, snapshots of it in my dreams and even when I was doing my laps when I went swimming. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
‘It has given me many sleepless nights. Of course, time moves on and memories start to fade.
‘But talking about it again now brings it all back so vividly. It was, it is, awful.’
Other lines of inquiry looked into by police included that Ms Dando had been murdered on the orders of the Serbian warlord and underworld boss Željko Ražnatović, aka Arkan.
Earlier in April 1999, Ms Dando fronted a BBC1 broadcast appealing for funds to help refugees fleeing the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbian forces in the province of Kosovo.
British warplanes were taking part in the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia to try to halt the massacre when Ms Dando was killed.
Despite her grave injuries and the fact she appeared to be dead, extensive efforts were made to resuscitate her both at the scene and at Charing Cross Hospital.
The Mail revealed that an official police report blamed resuscitation efforts for potentially destroying vital evidence that could have led officers to her killer.
Her clothes were ripped off to perform cardiac massage and the ground was ‘trampled’ by those who tried to save her.
In June last year, it emerged that Ms Dando’s killer may have mistaken her for another BBC journalist who was the real target of an assassination plot.
Prosecutors in a French court accused fashion boss Gérald Marie, 73, of using the Russian Mafia to try and kill Lisa Brinkworth after she exposed him as a sex abuser.
But their gunman may have assassinated Ms Dando by mistake.
Ms Brinkworth claimed Marie, former boss of the Elite agency, wanted her dead because she claimed he sexually assaulted her in 1998 while she was working undercover to expose crimes in the fashion industry.
The Daily Mail’s coverage of Ms Dando’s shocking murder, which gripped the nation
She told the Mirror: ‘Even if there was a tiny possibility, I don’t know if I could live with that, so I’m hoping there’s nothing in that. I try not to think about it. I really, really don’t want it to be true.’
Mr Marie called the allegations ‘fanciful nonsense’.
The new documentary, which will launch globally on Netflix on September 26, is directed by Marcus Plowright (Fred and Rose West: Reopened) and executive produced by Emma Cooper (The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes).
Now, a newly released trailer for an upcoming Netflix documentary series about the unsolved case reveals the fury of Barry George, the man who spent eight years in prison for Ms Dando’s murder before his conviction was quashed in 2008.
‘It makes me angry that they have taken eight years of my life,’ he says in the trailer.
Ms Dando’s murder prompted a huge investigation led by the Metropolitan Police and resulted in Mr George – a local loner and fantasist who had already served a prison sentence for attempted rape – being convicted of her murder in July 2001.
However, he was granted a retrial on appeal and was unanimously acquitted by a jury in August 2008.
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