Panorama: Jill Dando – The jury's out
Tonight's (Monday 29 October, 8.30pm) Panorama on BBC One will focus on a five-year investigation into the conviction of Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando which has concluded that evidence central to the prosecution of Barry George was "inconclusive" and "should not have been admitted".
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) commissioned new forensic reports and tests which they believe show the single particle of firearms residue found in a pocket of Barry George's coat had no evidential value.
The CCRC have now referred the case to the Appeal Court – something they can do only if they believe there is a realistic likelihood of the verdict being overturned or ruled unsafe. This latest appeal – Barry George's second – will start next week.
Panorama reporter Raphael Rowe has had access to the 100-page CCRC document together with the new Forensic Science Service (FSS) reports. He has also interviewed two of the 11 jurors who heard the original evidence. Both say that without the original FSS evidence about the gun residue heard at the trial, they would have found Barry George not guilty.
During the trial, the prosecution claimed that this residue was similar to residue found on Jill Dando's coat, in her hair and on the cartridge found at the scene and was compelling evidence against Barry George. What they did not say was that it could have come from any one of 230 million cartridges sold in the UK that year.
But the latest report by the Forensic Science Service presented to the CCRC says it is "just as likely that a single particle of discharge residue would have been recovered from the pocket of Mr George's coat – whether or not he was the person who shot Jill Dando". The report goes further and says that far from being compelling as the prosecution had claimed, the particle evidence was "inconclusive".
The scientist who found the particle – Robin Keeley – told the BBC at the time of the trial: "It was only one particle but none the less it was there and one couldn't ignore it ... now it could be that the wearer of that coat fired a gun."
But in another statement from the FSS to the CCRC, a senior scientist admits he had "a vague unease" about the way the media reported Mr Keeley's findings during the course of the trial in 2001.
He says he met Dr Keeley to discuss his concerns and both had agreed the particle was "neutral". He admitted they were unsure "whether the court had been left with the right impression", but they "agreed to do nothing."
As their concerns were not passed on, this information was not available to the defence at Barry George's first appeal against his conviction which was dismissed in 2002.
Since the trial, the Forensic Science Service has changed its policy. A single particle of firearms residue no longer has any evidential value and will be described as "inconclusive" in court.
According to the documents seen by Panorama, judges hearing next week's appeal will be told the CCRC report concludes that the particle "should not have been admitted" as evidence at George's original trial.
A graphic, produced for the jury by the prosecution, which linked the firearms residue found at the scene to that found on Jill Dando's coat and in Barry George's coat pocket is branded by the CCRC report as "very dangerous and misleading".
The CCRC decided not to seek permission from the Court of Appeal to interview the jury. But Panorama has spoken to two of the 11 jurors who delivered a 10-1 majority verdict finding Barry George guilty of murder.
Juror Janet Herbert tells the programme: "I felt that maybe a wrong decision had been reached ... and however many years we are later I still feel quite strongly about it. I feel that maybe someone was found guilty who perhaps isn't guilty."
She adds: "I felt that one particle was insufficient to prove somebody's guilt of murder."
And the foreman of the jury who delivered the guilty verdict says: "It was a key piece of evidence. If the trial was to go ahead again tomorrow in exactly the same way but without that evidence, then the verdict would be very different".
Next week, the Appeal Court judges have several options. They can overturn the murder conviction and release Barry George immediately; they can order a re-trial; or they can rule that even without the firearms evidence, his conviction is safe and 46-year-old George will remain in jail.
The jury foreman tells the programme: "Personally if it was my decision whether or not to have another trial ... without the firearms evidence, I would say no. There's no point in having the trial because there isn't enough evidence to prosecute."
Panorama: Jill Dando – The jury's out, Monday
29 October 2007, 8.30pm, BBC One