Jill was a really popular newsreader, journalist and presenter in the 1990s. She worked for the BBC for many years and won their Personality of the Year award in 1997. Jill was born in Somerset in 1961 and had an older brother called Nigel. Except for surgery when she was 3 to fix a hole in her heart, she had a normal upbringing but had a dream of being a journalist and being on TV. She started working for a local newspaper, the Weston Mercury, as a trainee reporter. Her father and brother also worked at the paper. After five years, she started working for the BBC and then moved on to become a newsreader for BBC Radio Devon. She moved up to working for BBC South West and presented Spotlight South West which was a news television magazine programme.
The only way was up for Jill. She crossed from regional television to national television and hosted short news bulletins on the BBC that aired every hour. She worked on a number of programmes for the BBC including Breakfast Time, the One O’Clock and Six O’Clock news, occasionally on Songs of Praise, Holiday (which was a travel programme) and Crimewatch.
In 1997, Jill met Alan Farthing on a blind date. Alan was separated from his wife but when his divorce was finalised, he and Jill announced their engagement on the 31 January 1999. They were due to get married on the 25 September later that year.
However, Jill was brutally murdered on the 26 April 1999. She had left Alan’s house that morning and drove her convertible BMW to her home in Fulham. Jill was trying to sell the property and didn’t really visit it much. As she approached her front door, to put the keys in the lock, she was grabbed from behind. She was pushed down to the ground, a gun was pressed against her left temple, and a single shot was fired. Her neighbour, Helen Doble, discovered Jill’s body 14 minutes later and called the Police. Jill was rushed to the Charing Cross Hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
Another neighbour, Richard Hughes, heard a cry from Jill but reported that he hadn’t heard a gunshot. He is the only persons who had a certain sighting of the killer, a white man, aged around 40 years old and approximately 6ft tall.
The Police weren’t facing an easy task in looking for Jill’s murderer. Her high profile meant she was in contact with a large number of people but also she was well known to millions of other people. They launched a huge investigation into her murder, named by the Metropolitan Police as Operation Oxborough. However, a year later, despite the 2,500 people they had spoken to and more than 1,000 statements taken, they weren’t getting them very far. A forensic criminal psychologist, Dr Adrian West, provided the Police with a psychological profile of who he thought would be the killer. Dr West said that the police should be looking for a man who was an obsessive loner.
This, along with other sources, led them to a man called Barry George. George lived around half a mile from Jill’s house. He had a criminal history which involved sexual offences, stalking, antisocial behaviour and attention-seeking behaviour. He was once found hiding in the bushes of Kensington Palace, carrying a length of rope and a knife.
George was placed under surveillance and eventually arrested on 25 May 2000. He was placed on trial at the Old Bailey for murder. The jury heard how he was seen in the area at the time of the murder, had a history of violence and stalking women. Investigators found a single particle of gunpowder in a coat owned by George and when his flat was searched the found four copies of Jill’s obituary. He was described as a fantasist – pretending his was the cousin of Freddy Mercury. He also used the name Paul Gadd, which was the real name of notorious paedophile Gary Glitter. He had a penchant for impersonating famous people – he once took the identify of a man named Steve Majors and claimed he was a stuntman to such an extent that he convinced a stadium to put on a show where he would don some roller skates and jump four double-decker buses. He injured himself during this stunt.
He was found guilty of murder on 2 July 2001 and sentenced to life by a jury of 10 to 1. There was a lot of conversations at this point about whether or not this verdict was correct.
So George’s defence team issued an appeal and this was dismissed 2002 by the Court of Appeal. They concluded that the verdict of the jury was safe.
In 2006, a further appeal was launched. This time his lawyers argued that there was fresh evidence that he could not have committed the crime because he was not mentally capable of doing so. A neuropsychiatrist called Michael Kopelman concluded that George, in certain situations, could be aware of what as going on around him but didn’t know how to respond and further that George lacked the mental capacity to commit the crime.
The single particle of gunshot residue also was questioned. It could be argued, and indeed was argued by a forensic scientist who took part in a 2019 documentary on Jill’s murder, that 1 in 100 members of the general population could have gunshot residue on them, in their clothing unknowingly transferred to them. The Metropolitan Police stated that no armed police were present at the time of George’s arrest, but independent eyewitnesses state there was. If there were armed police there, this could have accounted for the transfer of gunshot residue. Would you arrest someone potentially for a murder involving a firearm without armed police?
A retrial was ordered on 14 December 2007 and he plead not guilty. The retail began on the 9 June 2008.
He was found not guilty on 1 August 2008. He has since won damages from tabloid newspapers but has been denied a claim for £1.4m for compensation as a result of his wrongful conviction. He was entitled to a judicial review but this was concluded with the summing up from the presiding judges saying QUOTE “There was indeed a case upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted the claimant of murder” and as a result again denied him compensation.
With George acquitted, Jill’s murder goes unsolved. However they are some theories on who could have committed, or (indeed) ordered the murder.
A scorned lover
Whilst the media pounced and traveled up Jill’s love life because they are trash, the police did investigate each of her former lovers because sadly, statistically, women are most likely killed by a partner or ex partner (in 2018, 61% of women killed by men in the UK were killed by a current or ex-partner). However, whilst the police were initially positive, they hit dead-end after dead-end and everyone was ruled out. This allegedly included a Russian crime lord who was apparently besotted by her. She had met him in Cyprus whilst filming a travel programme and when she rejected his advances, it is theorised that he ordered her murder.
There is a theory that it was a mistaken identity – i.e Jill was mistaken for someone else. But bearing mind that this happened on her own doorstep, this is less than likely.
The crazed fan theory. Jill was very well known and her brother Nigel highlighted to Police that someone had been pestering her. Again, this theory was ruled out.
A UK based hitman
Jill presented Crimewatch. There is a theory that an organised crime gang were getting frustrated by Crimewatch and the role they played in assisting Police. The Police obviously investigated this route but this theory was ultimately rejected.
A Serbian hit man
The Kosovo War was pretty front page news in the UK in the late 90s. Do either of you either remember it or was it on the news etc?
Ok well, its complicated but as with any war, there was a lot of people fleeing the areas involved because they feared for their safety (plus there was some pretty awful ethnic cleansing fuckery going on). Less than a month before her murder, Jill hosted a crisis appeal to raise money for those affected. They raised over £1m in 24 hours. Then a few days before her murder, bombing of the Radio Television Serbia building by US and British warplanes, killed 16 employees. BBC’s head of news, Tony Hall, received sinister phone call the after after Jill’s murder who said: “Your prime minister Blair butchered innocent young people, we butcher back.”
So the theory here is that a Serbian hitman killed Jill because she was high profile within the BBC.
It’s now questioned whether the call to Tony Hall was in fact a hoax or not. There have been investigations into potential hitmen, all who looked pretty clean (but wouldn’t you if you were a hitman…).
On the hitman theories – a single gunshot to the head and the ability to disappear from the area with very few witnesses is definitely a more “professional’ way to murder someone after all. But the shell casing left behind and the type of gun they suspect was used are not usually considered to ones that a professional hit man would used.
The last theory is that Jill had investigated the possibility that a paedophile ring was operating the BBC in the mid-90s. She had apparently handed her findings to management in the BBC by way of dossier. Did this prompt a revenge attack? It might have been a bit of a bananas theory in the 1990s but when the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal broke in 2012, it makes it a more plausible theory.
It’s been over 20 years since Jill’s brutal murder. Hamish Campbell, who headed the investigation said last year on the 20th anniversary that whilst they believed they were days away from catching the killer, he thinks this case will now never be solved.
Commons Library – https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7654/
BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-51572665
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Dando
The Independent – https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/jill-dando-murder-theories-what-happened-who-barry-george-bbc-documentary-a8851491.html
The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/29/jill-dando-will-never-be-solved-says-lead-detective