The Unsolved Murder of Jill Dando
Over 20 years since her murder, Jill Dando’s death is still shrouded in mystery.
Jill Dando via newsweek.co.uk
The BBC’s Personality of the Year winner was shot outside her London home in 1999 with a single bullet to the head. The police never found her killer, so what happened to make Jill another statistic?
Born in Weston-super-Mare in 1961, Jill graced British TV screens for 20 years, as a serious journalist on television’s Crimewatch to the presenter of Holiday, she was a familiar face to many. On the 26th of April 1999, at around 11.30 am, Jill was shot dead outside her home in Fulham, London. Her body was discovered by a neighbour shortly after.
The news, broken by her visibly shaken friends and colleagues across their respective news stations, was that Jill had been stabbed. There was so much blood that paramedics mispronounced her cause of death.
Witnesses were interviewed by police and the media, with one man claiming he didn’t hear a scream or a gunshot and saw a man walking calmly away from the scene.
The death of Jill stunned the nation. This was a time where celebrity wasn’t what it is today, and by all accounts, Jill was a friendly and average person, considering her status. At the time, she was presenting Crimewatch, Holiday and the news.
“The nation took an interest in a murder investigation in a way that you see in other cases, but this somehow felt quite personal for many people in society.” — Detective Superintendent Shaun Sawyer.
Mourners flocked to the church in Weston-super-Mare in their thousands, wanting to pay their respects to Jill and her family. Reverend Roger Collins, who led the service, said:
“I know of nobody who could have had fewer enemies than Jill. When Jill was shot, a lively, loving beautiful light was extinguished, and darkness came to us all.”
Jill’s murder was even included as a segment on her show, Crimewatch, helping the number of potential suspects and tips rise, making the hunt for her killer the most extensive Metropolitan Police inquiry since the search for the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe in the ’80s. A year into the investigation, the police had already spent £2million.
Over the years, there have been many theories about what happened to Jill and why she was killed.
The paedophile ring
There were rumours that Jill was about to expose the BBC’s now-infamous paedophile ring, years before the story eventually broke.
An unnamed source spoke to the Daily Express, saying Jill was surprised by the names on the list but “no one wanted to know” about her findings and quickly dismissed the journalist’s claims. The BBC deny seeing Jill’s evidence.
The Serbian hitman
Jill’s cause of death was a single bullet to the head, with the killer deciding to shoot her in broad daylight and disappear before the neighbour who found her arrived, indicative of a professional hit.
Less than a month before she was killed, Jill headed up an appeal to raise money for the Kosovan refugees, who were fleeing ethnic cleansing. The event raised over £1 million in 24 hours and was deemed a success.
A few days before Jill’s death, US and British planes bombed the building in Belgrade that housed Serbian TV and radio, killing 16 employees. It’s believed that the killing of Jill was retaliation for this bombing, with an ignored call made to the BBC, the day after Jill’s murder;
“Yesterday I called to add a few more numbers to the list because your government and in particular your Prime Minister Blair murdered, butchered 17 innocent young people… He butchered, we butcher back. The first one you had yesterday. The next one will be [head of BBC News] Tony Hall.”
The issue was this theory is that once police looked at the facts and forensics, they realized that this was even more unlikely.
The bullet itself had been tampered with, showing six indentations on the shell, possibly to remove powder to deaden the sound of the shot. Scientists could also tell there wasn’t a silencer used, and the whole situation was just odd. The other issue was Jill’s movements. She was in a relationship and quite often didn’t stay at her residence, so her whereabouts was sporadic, and it was difficult to tell when she’d be home.
Could this then indicate that it was a spur of the moment action rather than a carefully planned hit?
During Barry George’s trial, his legal team had documentation that a man in prison claimed the IRA was involved.
Wayne Aird claimed senior members chose to target her because of her police links through Crimewatch. Aird contended that this was covered up to avoid disrupting the Northern Ireland peace process. Police were made away of this letter but didn’t investigate further.
The obsessive fan
Jill was recently engaged to Gynaecologist Alan Farthing after a year of dating, and with reports of a man lurking around her street, this theory could hold some weight.
Police took these claims seriously as neighbour Richard Hughes told police that before she was shot, he’d heard Jill at her front door greeting someone that sounded like a friend. From this witness statement, Jill could have known her killer on an amicable basis.
In 2018, 227 women in England and Wales were killed, and 89% of them were killed by someone they knew. You’re more likely to be killed by someone you know than a stranger.
The police created a profile of the person they thought they were looking for. This was a loner who likely didn’t have any close family or friends.
The inquiry led investigators to Barry George, also known as Barry Bulsara. George had spent time in prison for attempted rape and posing as a police officer. Years before, he had tried to join the police force, and when he received his rejection letter, he attempted to create a warrant card from it.
However, this doesn’t make him a killer.
George’s name was mentioned to police two days after the shooting but wasn’t taken any further until a year into the investigation.
George lived near Jill’s home and was noted on the day of her death trying to get a free lift from a local taxi firm. He later went back to plant false alibis.
A search warrant was issued, and the police searched his house, finding rolls of undeveloped film that contained images of women. They also found notebooks filled with names and addresses of women in the local area.
The police also removed a gun holster and images of George holding a gun, along with business cards for firearms dealers. But there was still no link to Jill.
Barry George was eventually arrested in May 2000 due to a single particle of gunshot residue found in a coat, similar to a witness's description of the man seen walking away from Jill’s home. In 2001 Barry George was convicted by Jury for the murder of Jill Dando and sentenced to life in prison.
Fast forward to 2006, and Barry George’s legal team made a new submission to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. They believed that a disproportionate amount of weight had been placed on the single particle of gunshot residue found in George’s coat pocket.
The legislation that had helped convict George had been recently updated, and solicitors believed they could fight George’s conviction. Angela Shaw, a forensic scientist, who was paramount in updating the legislation, agreed with the lawyers;
“A single particle a year later in a coat pocket could not link Barry George to the shooting.”
George’s conviction was quashed in a new trial, as the Court of Appeal found the single piece of gunshot residue inconclusive.
Barry George was released on the 1st August 2008, after spending eight years in prison.
Mystery has surrounded Dando’s death for years, with the hunt for the killer overtaking the manpower of the Metropolitan police. Even 21 years later, the officer involved in the original case don’t believe they’ll ever catch the killer. Dando’s brother, Nigel, just wants to know why;
“I would like to see somebody charged and convicted but I would just like to know why someone would want to kill her. I would like somebody, the person who did it, to be able to tell me … why it happened and that would be fine. That would put my mind at rest.”
The issue surrounding the inquiry into Jill’s death is seen in many investigations. There’s pressure in high-profile cases to find the perpetrator, and sometimes the wrong person is convicted. The crime itself was so obscure and unanticipated that it perplexed the police. There were no hard leads, and this led to the wrong man being sent to prison whilst the real criminal still walks the streets.
The investigation remains open to this day, and in the years since Jill’s murder, the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science has been set up to bring together top research departments and groups across University College London. Their aim is to widen the discipline surrounding forensic science. Nick Ross, who presented Crimewatch with Jill, believes she would be immensely proud of the programme.