Even the police said I didn't murder Jill Dando. So why DON'T they find her real killer? Barry George's fury that he won't get compensation after botched investigation16/08/2014 23:48
Barry George fervently hopes he will live long enough to see Jill Dando’s killer brought to justice. But he very much doubts this will happen.
‘The real murderer is out there somewhere but the police aren’t looking for him,’ he says. ‘They needed someone to plug a hole and I was it – my life was disposable.’
So much so, he says, that the police expunged every trace of his existence. He lost his home and the police took all its contents – the Art Deco dining table and chairs that had belonged to his parents, his treasured record collection, the DVD player he saved so hard to buy, his passport, every stitch of clothing he owned, ‘even my new curtains’.
Then, shortly after he was convicted in 2001 of the Crimewatch presenter’s murder, the police asked his lawyers for permission to destroy it all. Never doubting that he would one day be cleared, his family angrily refused. Eventually Barry, 53, did indeed walk free as an innocent man.
Victim: Barry George was wrongly accused of murdering television presenter Jill Dando, pictured with sister Michelle Diskin
Having spent seven years in jail, he was acquitted of the killing at a retrial in 2008 after doubt was cast on the reliability of gunshot residue evidence and the testimony of a crucial witness.
‘Afterwards, we applied for an inventory of my possessions, but I never got it,’ he says. At the very least, he asked, could he have his passport back?
He didn’t get a reply. ‘I still don’t know what has happened to all my things. They stole my life and everything in it.’
It has been five years since Barry has spoken publicly. In that time he has kept a low profile, living quietly in a village in County Cork among people who have ‘accepted’ him.
While the anger and bitterness have never left him, he is possessed of a surprising, old-fashioned gentility that makes him loath to complain too much. ‘Let me just say that Jill Dando and her family are the first victims, I come after them,’ he says.
He struggles to find any lasting contentment but instead draws succour from simple acts: walking his sister’s border collies, Casey and Austen, through scenic Irish countryside; tinkering with his Yamaha synthesizer; a pint or two of lager shandy in his local.
He has made some friends – he talks fondly of a local artist – and while he would like female company, is wary of women.
‘I’m scared that it might be a police trap and I could be fitted up. Look what they did to Colin Stagg,’ he said, referring to the undercover policewoman who feigned romantic interest in Stagg, who was falsely accused of murdering Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992.
Slain: Crimewatch presenter Jill Dando pictured on the doorstep where she was killed in April 1999
Every so often Barry’s life is directly interrupted by the Dando case. Earlier this month he was back in court to hear that he had lost his bid for compensation.
His lawyers had argued that the former Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, illegally withheld the payment (he was in line for up to £500,000) after his conviction was quashed by effectively suggesting that he was ‘not innocent enough’.
The Appeal Court ruled that he did not qualify for compensation because jurors could still reasonably have convicted him despite new evidence that led to his acquittal.
It followed a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2011. The ruling by nine judges set a new test for a miscarriage of justice which required that damages should be paid only if a person could prove there were no circumstances that could have led to their conviction by a jury.
‘Policemen and others get compensation when they so much as fall off their chairs yet I get nothing. It is disgusting,’ says Barry. ‘There are many people who have been wrongly convicted and I feel a responsibility that if I allow this to happen to me then it will set a precedent and happen to others.’
Beside him in a hotel close to the Royal Courts of Justice sits his sister, Michelle Diskin, an eloquent former image consultant.
Older by five years, she has fought fiercely for her brother every step of the way. And she is not done yet. ‘We’re not going to take this latest decision lying down,’ she says.
‘In law there are no degrees of innocence. You are either innocent or guilty. Barry is innocent, it’s as simple as that.’
Yet because of the compensation ruling, her brother has been cast in a kind of legal purgatory, forever shackled by the murder of one of the most high-profile female presenters on television.
He doesn’t know if Miss Dando’s family believe he is guilty – they have made no public comment – but he is certain that, like him, they have been betrayed by the police.
Certain aspects of the case still fixate him and he is apt to speak expansively about them, lacing his speech with awkward rhetorical flourishes.
Physically, Barry is ungainly. ‘All fingers and thumbs,’ says his sister. ‘With shovels for hands.’ He laughs when his fingers are likened to sausages. It is true.