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New questions

Mike Lewis | 15:05 UK time, Tuesday, 5 September 2006

When you invite print journalists to an advance viewing of a film, you're not really expecting a round of applause. On the other hand you don't anticipate the programme being roundly abused. Yet that's what happened at yesterday's preview of Raphael Rowe's Panorama investigation Jill Dando's Murder: The New Evidence.

PanoramaThe programme is a meticulous and thorough re-examination of the evidence that convicted Barry George - the oddball who police and prosecution believe was responsible for the appalling murder of our colleague.

It wasn't an easy film for the BBC to commission, but Raph and producer Kristin Hadland have come up with many new and pertinent facts that could affect the safety of the conviction. Notably a new forensic report suggests the 'firearms discharge residue' particle found in Barry George's pocket in all probability comes from a source other than a gun and doesn't connect Barry George to the crime; and new evidence that the jury ignored some of the judge's instructions by discussing aspects of the case in their hotel when some of the jury members were not present.

Barry GeorgeThis, and a host of other new facts contained in the programme, will be forwarded to the Criminal Cases Review Commission by Barry George's defence team - who believe this should lead to the case being referred back to the Court of Appeal.

By and large the assembled hacks weren't interested and, despite the evidence to the contrary, claimed there was nothing new in the film. Then they tried to argue that the BBC was trying to whitewash Barry George's criminal past. Again this simply wasn't true. The film doesn't duck the fact that he was an oddball, a threat to women, with convictions for indecent assault and attempted rape and that he had an interest in guns.

So the pack then took the line that Raphael was an inappropriate person to investigate this story. It's no secret that Raphael was himself a victim of a miscarriage of justice - serving 12 years before his own conviction was overturned at the Court of Appeal. Raphael explained how his own experience had given him a special interest in the criminal justice system, but this didn't mean he compromised the BBC's normal standards of accuracy and impartiality. But looking at some of today's newspaper coverage he might as well have whistled in the wind: the Daily Mail had "Criminal past of man behind BBC's Dando revelations", and the Telegraph had "BBC defends use of freed prisoner to challenge Dando ruling".

You'll have to judge for yourself who's right and wrong. For my part I think Raphael, Kristin and the rest of the team have produced a valuable piece of work. At no point do they claim that Barry George is definitely innocent - simply that the jury did not hear all the relevant evidence. If they had, who can say for sure they would have reached the same verdict.

Comments

If the Daily Mail and Telegraph think that Raphael's past is the most relevant bit of this story then it only goes to show how they value tittle-tattle above news.

  • 2.
  • At 05:02 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

It's hardly suprising that two traditionally anti-BBC papers would react like this.

Neither is it surprising that they would smear Raphael because of his past, the disingenious (at best) Mail headline says it all.

But the Telegraph and Mail reacting hysterically to these type of stories is hardly a surprise, I doubt anyone with sense will take any notice of them.

  • 3.
  • At 05:08 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Chris Tetzlaff wrote:

One has to wonder in a case like this whether Barry George would've been convicted regardless of this new evidence. Outrage and disbelief over the Dando murder - and the completely cold-hearted precision with which it was carried out - was such that when even the flimsiest of evidence did come about, a guilty verdict was inevitable.

  • 4.
  • At 05:14 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • A Bannatyne wrote:

Sadly this: "the Daily Mail had "Criminal past of man behind BBC's Dando revelations", and the Telegraph had "BBC defends use of freed prisoner to challenge Dando ruling"" shows exactly how the papers treat their public duty to inform these days. These are two papers that a lot of people erroneously believe to actually contain news, and yet this illustrates perfectly how willing even the Telegraph is to ignore a story in favour of the lowest common denominator - in this case a slur on a man proven innocent who is producing something they are incapable of: responsible journalism.

  • 5.
  • At 05:35 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Geoff Beale wrote:

I'm not surprised the journalists lambasted the programme. It totally wrong of the BBC to make the findings of this "investigation" public until the review commission had finished its deliberations.

It was no more than a cynical gimmick to gain viewers and it does nothing to further "justice" or enhance the reputation of Panorama.

As you are well aware,justice should be decided in the courts. Not on TV.

  • 6.
  • At 05:56 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Georg W wrote:

The reactions are typical for people that are more interested in having someone to point to, someone to blame for something, no matter if that person did what they are accusing him of or not. Those people are clearly more interested in a scapegoat than the truth. And for my part, I wish those people to experience the same as Raphael. That may change their mind.

I've always been dubious about this conviction. As were a lot of people before the press focused on George being an oddball.

There were five key points that tied George to the murder:
1) He was obsessed with celebrities and the BBC - well so are at least half the population
2) He had a fascination with guns - so do others
3) Gunshot residue - not only could this be from elsewhere, and there are other recent studies on this too
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg18825274.300-why-we-cannot-rely-on-firearm-forensics.html
but the chain of custody on the coat is dubious, and a vicar says armed police stormed his flat - possible contamination. But such particles can come from smoke and brake dust from vehicles
4) Single fibre from his trousers found at scene - normally one fibre isn't enough, and could come from popular clothing eg M&S, Gap etc
5) Seen near Dando's house - well he lived half a mile away, so I'd be surprised if he hadn't been seen nearby

The police never established a motive, and George has always protested his innocence. In previous cases, such evidence uncovered by Panorama has resulted in new appeals and quashing of convictions, so they are doing their thing, even if the press doesn't like it.

Interestingly, the Dando Case Closed page on the BBC website has disappeared.

  • 8.
  • At 06:56 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Julia wrote:

People may remember the case of Sion Jenkins who was similarly trashed by the newspapers before during and after his trial and lengthy appeals. It seems that the Barry George case has many similarities - convition based on questionable circumstantial evidence, police in a hurry to get a conviction, dodgy juries etc etc The newspapers do very little to help the cause of justice with such biased reporting.

  • 9.
  • At 07:08 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Geoff Beale: The media is always full of information about current crimes and legal cases, I don't see why the BBC should be singled out as a villain for this. In an ideal world, perhaps the media wouldn't report on crimes until the perpetrator(s) had been convicted, but that's not likely to happen is it?

  • 10.
  • At 09:57 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Ray Hendry wrote:

re Geoff Beale's post: I could not disagree more with his stance here - it is an unfortunate truth in today's society (especially in our "western democracies"), that people are often tried and pronounced guilty in the media even before they get to trial - so why feel aggrieved when a quality programme such as Panorama decides to come in on the side of someone who MAY have been subject to a miscarriage of justice?? In fact, most such miscarriages have been helped only by the intervention of the "responsible" media, and not by the judiciary or politicians... Never confuse "justice" with "law"...

  • 11.
  • At 10:11 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Neil B wrote:

Having just watched the panorama program,i felt that it did cast 'doubt' over several aspects of the evidence presented. However for a true and fair documentary surely a larger input from the prosecution or a wider explanation of the other evidence would have benefited. The program felt biased, as for the credentials of the reporter, this must agin cast doubt over issues of bias. Panorama must have realised that for such a sensitive subject that this would be called into doubt.

  • 12.
  • At 10:25 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Kevin wrote:

I have just watched with interest the Panorama program regarding Barry George's conviction for the murder of Jill Dando. And I have to admit that I'm scared. I'm scared that a person could be convicted of such a henious crime on the evidence (or rather lack of it) that I have just seen. It is fair to say that I have not seen all of the evidence that was presented to the court, nor do I have any knowledge of the case when it was originally put bafore the court. But from what I have just seen and heard, to say that the conviction looks flimsy to say the least, would be a massive understatement. The programme clearly highlighted undisputable scientific evidence that should have been put before the court and wasn't, witness statements that were far from convincing, and further witness statements that should have been put to the jury but never were. True, Barry George may have had convictions in the past for attempted rape, may have followed women, and did have an interest in guns. However, none of this proves that he committed this crime. I have seen nothing on the programme tonight that in my opinion can prove that he he was guilty of this. Indeed, it looks very much like a case of the police being under pressure to solve a high profile murder and charging the first person that they could to aleviate the pressure. I'm not saying that he did or did not commit the crime, but simply that I fail to see any evidence of any kind that would, could or should have resulted in a charge of murder, let alone a conviction. I just hope that I am never arrested for a crime I haven't committed, because after watching this, it would appear that the police and CPS will stop at nothing and completely disregard any evidence put before them that would prove my innocence, and conversley go to extraordinary lengths to use the most flimsy of evidence convincingly to secure a conviction.

  • 13.
  • At 10:27 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Alan wrote:

Just saw the program. Good journalism. Several interesting facts that the CPRC should be aware of before they make their decision. Trial by television? If it wasn't for balanced programming like this we'd be clueless as to what goes on, and occasionaly perhaps wrong, in the criminal justice system.

Well done all.

  • 14.
  • At 10:28 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • j smith wrote:

i have never being happy with this conviction.one peice of crucial evidence seem to revolve around the gun residue found in the pocket of the coat,at the time the thought crossed my mind ---was mr george the original owner of the coat? ,did he purchase it from new.it looks like an exspensive coat.

  • 15.
  • At 10:29 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Kevin wrote:

Oh, and the headlines in the papers don't surprise me in the least. It is typical of the press in this country. Why should the BBC not produce and air a programme which tries to show that a conviction for murder may be unsafe? I'm sure if it wasn't such a high profile case as Jill Dando, the BBC would be applauded for such a programme. And I fail to see what relevance the background of the presenter has to the accuracy of the programme and the information it provided. The british press should once again, as is too often the case these days, be ashamed of themselves.

  • 16.
  • At 10:38 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Patricia McKeever wrote:

Just one more piece of evidence that our criminal justice system is corrupt. Raphael is to be congratulated on an excellent investigation. Stop criticising him for his past and give him a top job at in the Police Force to ensure a brighter future for him and a safer one for the rest of us.

The simple fact is that those of us who believe in morality feel that we have not just the right but a responsibility to bring facts to light. Sure, a cynic (like myself) will have to admit that there is a possibility that the BBC is simply trying to drum up business by releasing the video. However, these headlines attacking the BBC prove that these other papers are more interested in selling copies than looking for the truth.

  • 18.
  • At 10:58 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Ellen wrote:

Whether some one has been to prison or not is not in the public interest. If they have served their time they have paid their debt to society. People that judge people on these grounds are not fit to comment, everyone deserves a second chance and you never know the person until you get to know them as a person and not as a reputation.

As for the evidence that was uncovered and the way it was put across in the programme was fair and never at any time was it said that Barry George was innocent it just raised doubt on the evidence that convicted him. It makes you wonder whether the police were being pressurised into getting a conviction in this case and covered up evidence that may have caused doubt to the evidence presented.

I found this programme interesting and believe it was presented sympathetically to all parties concerned, including Jill Dando's family.

  • 19.
  • At 11:19 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Jack wrote:

Accuracy and impartiality my foot. Only people who don't know much about the case could have been taken in by such nonsense. This was an appeal on behalf of the defence, ignoring almost all prosecution evidence. That is why the reporter's past is important, and viewers should have been told - he could be thought to have an axe to grind. So much was omitted. And every slightest piece of defence evidence was hyped. The woman who said she was sure of Barry George's alibi was disputed by her two colleagues. You purported to explain that George tried to check times he was seen because he feared he would be wrongly picked on - but you failed to point out that he tried to lay false trails - he asked witnesses to change times they had seen him. And so it goes on. Incidentally I found the image of Raphael Rowe reenacting the murder disgusting.

You say "You'll have to judge for yourself who's right and wrong." We can only do that if you show all the evidence, not just the parts that suit your story. This was poor journalism.

  • 20.
  • At 11:52 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • edwin wrote:

If Mike an executive producer with the BBC thinks this film represents BBCs standards of Accuracy and Impatiality then I am really worried about BBC standards.
I do not read the mail or the telegraph because I think their standards are "Rubish" but for a BBC producer to say this film represented BBCs standards of ACCURACY and IMPARTIALITY is shamefull both to the BBC and MIKE's standards of judgement!

  • 21.
  • At 12:23 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • phil d. wrote:

Dear Martin,

April 23, 1999: 16 RTS (Serbian Radio Television) employees killed by Nato bombing in Belgrade.

If you were a Serbian nationalist, particularly given the ruthlessness of Balkan politics, what would you do?

Get even.

3 days later a prominent BBC presenter Jill Dando is killed, in a killing that bears all the hallmarks of a professional job. A local nutter would almost inevitably have left more evidence.
(April 26, 1999).

The assertion that there is no evidence that the two events are related is even less credible or honest than the assertion that the events of 7/07 were not related to British foreign policy. Did anyone look for the evidence?

What investigations were carried out into the actions of Serbian sympathisers in London at the time?Isn't the truth that any such linkage was officially discouraged, because of Government anxiety about the uncertainty among the public as to whether the bombing of Serbian infrastructure (bridges, factories, and especially the TV station), was justified?

To make these obvious connections is clearly not to condone the actions. But why do we allow the powers that be to get away with these obvious misrepresentations? If we go to war, we must expect unpleasant consequences, whether the war is justifiable or not.

Your article about the hostile press response to the Panorama programme indicates tht a similar wilful disregard for the most likely motive stains many in our national media.

The most obvious piece of evidence in favour of Barry George's innocence is that, unlike probably a few thousand people in London that day, he had no obvious motive, because he was not a Serb.

  • 22.
  • At 12:31 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • phil d. wrote:

Dear Mike

Sorry I addressed you as Martin. Apologies.

  • 23.
  • At 12:50 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Damon Goodyear wrote:

Why has it taken this long to throw up evidence of an obvious miscarriage of justice?


Barry George is clearly off his tits, but it is an awful long way from obsession with famous females to the murder of one of them. The case against him was based of innuendo and vastly incomplete forensic evidence, namely a speck of gun residue that has never been stated as being of the same chemical composition as whatever scortch marks found on Jill Dando's head. It has never been shown to be of such exotic composition that the chances of a match are slim. It has never been explained how they came to be still present on a jacket two years after the event.


I have a personal regret in that I never, as a lawyer who could see the problems with his conviction, spoke up to ask the questions that could have seen the conviction quashed. It is well overdue for these questions to be raised.

  • 24.
  • At 01:26 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • rd wrote:

The reaction of the Daily Mail and Telegraph is, quite frankly, both appalling and to be expected. Both papers have an openly anti-BBC agenda, and will happily fire any cheap shot available if it appeals to their core readership. I think that the BBC should be commended for making this documentary - it was thorough and balanced. I also feel that the BBC as an institution has shown itself in very good light by re-examining what is a very sensitive issue for the organisation - ignoring it would surely have been far easier.

  • 25.
  • At 05:59 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • miika wrote:

When you can't attack the message, you go after the messenger instead.

I disagree that the program will affect justice in any respect. It lays out the evidence that has been discovered, that's going to be a matter of public record anyways soon enough.

What it will do is show to the public the reasonable basis behind an appeal, that there are questions remaining to be answered. The court will still be the ones responsible for determining if there is sufficient grounds to doubt the conviction as a result, and they will be looking at the evidence, not what the media says.

I think the system has proven recently a few times that it applies the law, not public opinion, most of the time.

It's unfortunate that there seems to be a number of people (and media outlets) who only want the justice system to abide by public opinion when it comes to locking people up, but never when it comes to the possibility of them being released.

  • 26.
  • At 07:39 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Adrian Challinor wrote:

One has to question whether the producers are being over sensitive in this case in seeking to justify their motives in making the film. It is not the purpose of the BBC to use what they call investigative journalism to do the job of the Police or the courts.

George was arrested, charged and convicted on evidence obtained by the Police and their laboratory staff. This evidence was tested and contested in a court of law and George found guilty by a jury. He is, therefore, guilty in the eyes of the law. This is not "on the balance of probabilities", but against "all reasonable doubt".

The evidence relating to the gun particle residue is not new, and therefore is not admisible as evidence for a retrial or appeal. This evidence should (sorry, I was not in the court and did not have access to the transcipts) ... should have been contested by his defence. If it was not, then this means either that his defence lawyers did not believe any alternaive explanation was likely.

There is no "evidence" that the jury members spoke regarding any aspect outside of the jury room. There is uncorroberated hearsay. This too is not admissible unless at least two of the jury members step forward to give statements that they did so, at which point I belive that they would be in contempt of court. I suggest that this is not a likely scenario.

So what we have is the BBC setting it self up against the courts and the jury, simply in order to make a program that seeks sensationalism.

This is not the purpose of the License Fee.

  • 27.
  • At 08:41 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Alex McEwan wrote:

Something occurred to me watching the show that seemed an obvious question to ask, but no one mentioned it so presumably it had been checked. It concerned the firearm discharge residue evidence, and how residue could easily be transferred from one person or place to another. A number of possible explanations for the residue in Barry George’s coat pocket were suggested. It also mentioned that George had made a number of visits to a gun club seeking membership. Did anyone ever check if he wore the coat in question on any of those visits, where presumably he would have shaken hands with people who had discharged firearms?

  • 28.
  • At 09:49 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Daniel wrote:

The film was quite fascinating and very disturbing. I certainly felt George's conviction was 'unsafe' after having watched it. There was one aspect that troubled me though, why did Barry George go into the counselling centre within days of Dando's murder to get a statement from them that he was there at a particular time - it was odd and suspicious behaviour. There seemed so little real evidence against George - I can't help thinking a professional hitman must have committed the murder - not a chaotic loner with mental health problems.

  • 29.
  • At 11:46 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Tim Griggs wrote:

Even before the BBC programme this never felt like a safe conviction for the most commonsense of reasons: no motive, no weapon, no solid forensics, no reliable witnesses, and enormous pressure on the police to get a result.

Has it occurred to anyone to ask whether a disproportionate number of proven miscarriages of justice (not to mention suspected ones) occur in high profile cases? For the police it must be like trying to conduct an investigation on stage: everyone screams for a quick and dramatic denouement which will, incidentally, make or break the detectives' own careers. They're only human.

  • 30.
  • At 01:56 PM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Lorraine wrote:

I thought it was a very well put together piece of journalism. Raph did not duck any of the issues around Barry George and his oddball behaviour and past. My over-riding and uncomfortable feeling at the end of this peice was that the jury may have manipulated themselves in to finding George guilty - perhaps for the sake of expidience or maybe the unseen hand of pressure (media or otherwise) was at work. What is for sure is that if there has been a miscarriage of justice in this case, it is not only Barry George who has been let down but Jill Dando and her friends and family also.

  • 31.
  • At 01:57 PM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

The only things I know about this case is what you have said here. Responsible citizens present what they believe to be genuinely exculpatory evidence in a criminal case to the authorities and give them a chance to investigate to find out whether or not there is anything of merit in it. Then, unless there is obvious fraud or coverup, they accept the findings. What did BBC do? It commissioned a sensational television program produced by a biased individual which presents facts of apparantly dubious value.

So what does the firearms residue discharge particle mean? That the perpetrator might have fired another gun? And what does the jury's failure to heed the judge's instructions mean? That there are grounds for a legal appeal? Apparantly BBC would prefer to overturn the jury's verdict by becoming the jury itself. The fact that its latest cause celebre was rejected by print journalists has given it reason to whine publicly only goes to prove just how badly debased this media organization has become. BBC, stick to reporting the news and stop trying to make it. You have difficulty enough with that already.

  • 32.
  • At 03:45 PM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Peter Bolt wrote:

The evidence was on the balance of probablities ie Without the jury knowing anything of the Defendants'antecedents they decided that the forensic evidence was "on the blance of probabilities" consistent with the Prosecution case. Of course there were other possibilities- so what! There always are and always will be.
Incidentially several BBC employees were present during the whole of the trial and they all thought the verdict was the right one.

  • 33.
  • At 04:41 PM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Ritter wrote:

28: I certainly felt George's conviction was 'unsafe' after having watched it.

This is why we have courts of law where the prosecution and the defence 'test' evidence in front of a jury.

This is not to say that the court system is infallible, far from it. But for the BBC to present the evidence of the 'defence' without giving the 'prosecution' the chance to cross-examine the evidence, and portray this as 'fair' and 'balanced' is laughable.

The title of this article is 'New Questions'. I do not see any 'new questions'. I see old ones. Indeed, the Guardian reported both sides of the 'firearms discharge residue' at the time of the case. Here is the link:

Dando case residue 'not reliable'
http://media.guardian.co.uk/jilldandotrial/story/0,,509278,00.html

The 2001 article quotes:

A speck of firearms residue found in the coat of the man accused of shooting Jill Dando was not reliable evidence of his involvement, a scientist told the Old Bailey yesterday.

and here:

Forensics debate in Dando case
http://www.guardian.co.uk/jilldando/story/0,7369,502021,00.html

The trace of ammunition residue allegedly found in the coat pocket of the man accused of shooting Jill Dando is unlikely to have got there after being seized by the police, the Old Bailey heard today.
Robin Keeley, a senior forensic scientist, said the possibility of the pocket being contaminated while being examined in his laboratory was "remote".

So, in a court of law, both scientists for the prosecution and defence said that the residue may have come from a bullet, but there was a possibility that it came from another source.

So if these issues were tested in a court of law in 2001, what are the 'new questions'?

  • 34.
  • At 03:40 AM on 07 Sep 2006,
  • nancy bray wrote:

The media were simply jelous! RR is a first rate reporter and made a fine job of his exclusive story. The one thing missing from the story was the fact that the prosecution wanted the Jury to think George had a mental age of ten yet the "Gun" was specially manufactured and would have needed specialist engineering experience and equipment to make it. Surely the fact that RR did 12 years in the slammer although planely innocent added to the story although he did not mention this fact. Good for the BBC perhaps it mitigates against the disgraceful Prog. damming Sion Jenkins some years ago. He is annother victim of Police malpractive. Best wishes to the BBC and RR. [John Bray]

  • 35.
  • At 04:36 AM on 07 Sep 2006,
  • miika wrote:

Jack in post 19:

The prosecution side doesn't need to be stated - they already presented their evidence, and have the conviction. They have their chance to rebut the evidence when/if the case is sent back down as a result of the appeal.

The point was to highlight new evidence, or alternative interpretations of existing evidence, to bring up "reasonable doubt", not to retry the case.

Peter in post 30: I'm not sure anyone is saying the jury was wrong to reach the verdict they did with the evidence as presented to them (regardless of the question marks about their conduct in deliberations).

But "balance of probabilities" is based on the time of the trial. The legal system allows for newly discovered evidence that contradicts or casts that reasonable doubt on the trial evidence to be submitted for consideration.

A case being sent back is not necessarily a criticism that the jury was wrong, it's just as likely to be a case of their decision -might- be different in light of whatever is placed in front of the appeals judges.

Just because BBC journos were present and came to the same decision just means the evidence as stated back then was convincing enough isn't much of an argument. Unless the BBC journos (or anyone else) have suddenly discovered some preternatural ability to see into the future and can see that there never will be any new evidence, or doubt cast on existing evidence, why would they disagree -then-?

The appeals system exists to make allowances for the future - advances in technology such as DNA forensics, new witnesses (who were too scared/too apathetic/not paid enough to come forward), doubts about existing witnesses (Roy Meadow, anyone?) - that's kind of a good thing, as history keeps showing us.

  • 36.
  • At 03:25 PM on 12 Sep 2006,
  • Lindsay wrote:

There are countless miscarriages of justice ongoing. And countless murders happening every day. You care about Jill Dando because you knew her. This does not mean her death deserves this unending stream of programming. Are BBC staff somehow more valuable than the common weald? Highlight someone else's case, for a change.

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