BBC BLOGS - The Editors

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.

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