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The Murder of Jill Dando

On 26 April 1999 Jill Dando, a British journalist, newsreader and TV presenter, was shot outside her home in Fulham, London. What followed was the biggest police enquiry since the Yorkshire Ripper, and Barry George, a local man, was convicted and imprisoned for the murder. Mr George was later acquitted after an appeal and retrial, and the case remains unsolved.


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The Murder


Jill Dando was shot once in the head outside her home at about 11:32am. She was returning home after spending the night at her partner's house. At the time of her murder she was in the process of selling the house and visited infrequently.

She was discovered 14 minutes later by her neighbour and taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead at 13:03. A forensic examination indicated she was shot by a 9mm calibre semi-automatic pistol, with the gun pressed against her head.

"As Dando was about to put her keys in the lock to open the front door of her home in Fulham, she was grabbed from behind. With his right arm, the assailant held her and forced her to the ground, so that her face was almost touching the tiled step of the porch. Then, with his left hand, he fired a single shot at her temple, killing her instantly. The bullet entered her head just above her ear, parallel to the ground, and came out the right side of her head." Bob Woffinden, The Guardian, 2002.



The Investigation


The investigation by Metropolitan Police, named Operation Orborough, proved fruitless for over a year. There was intense media coverage after the murder resulting in speculation about the motive. Within 6 months the investigation team had spoken to 2,500 people and taken more than 1,000 statements. With little progress after a year police turned their attention to Barry George, who lived about half a mile from Jill Dando's house. He had a history of stalking women, sexual offences, and other antisocial and attention-seeking behaviour. Mr George was put under surveillance, arrested on 25 May 2000, and charged with her murder on 28 May.


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Mr George was tried at the Old Bailey, convicted, and on 2 July 2001 was sentenced to life imprisonment. There was widespread concern about the conviction because the case against Mr George appeared thin. Two appeals were unsuccessful, but after discredited forensic evidence was excluded from the prosecution's case, Mr George's third appeal succeeded in November 2007. The original conviction was quashed and a second trial, lasting eight weeks, ended in Mr George's acquittal on 1 August 2008.



Potential Suspects


The lines of enquiry explored by police included:

  • Theories that a jealous ex-boyfriend or unknown lover had killed Jill Dando. 

  • A belief that somebody had hired an assassin to murder Ms Dando as revenge for their being convicted as a result of evidence gathered by Crimewatch viewers. After exhaustive enquiries this was ruled out by detectives.

  • Various theories relating to Bosnian-Serb or Yugoslav groups in retaliation for NATO actions against media outlets and her appeals for aid during Yugoslav wars.

  • The possibility that a deranged fan may have killed her after she rejected his approaches. Ms Dando's brother, Nigel, informed detectives that she was becoming concerned by "some guy pestering her" in the few days before her murder, but this was ruled out by detectives.

  • A case of mistaken identity. This was judged unlikely, given the killing took place on the steps of her home.

  • Following the Jimmy Saville case, a claim was made that Ms Dando had investigated a paedophile ring at the BBC during the mid 90s and had handed a dossier containing her findings to BBC management, possibly prompting a revenge attack. The BBC said it had seen no evidence to support the claim. 

The original police investigation explored the possibility of a contract killing, but it was thought any assassin would not be well informed enough (she visited her Fulham home rarely since she was living with her fiance). CCTV evidence of her last journey (security video recordings from a shopping centre) did not show any evidence she was being followed.

Forensic examination of the cartridge case and bullet recovered from the scene of the murder suggested the weapon used was the result of a workshop conversion or decommissioned gun. It was argued that a professional assassin would not use such a poor quality weapon. 



Yugoslav connection


Soon after the murder some people identified the possibility of a Yugoslav or Serb connection. At Mr George's first trial his defence barrister proposed the Serbian warlord leader Arkan had ordered Ms Dando's assassination in retaliation for the NATO bombing of Radio Television of Serbia's headquarters on 23 April 1999 in which sixteen station staff members died. They suggested that Jill Dando's earlier presentation of an appeal for aid for Kosovar Albanian refugees may have attracted the attention of Bosnian-Serb hardliners. 


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The former communist Yugoslavian government had a history of assassinations directed against its opponents. The attacks were usually carried out by small teams consisting of a trigger-man supported by a spotter, and were always carefully planned. The attacks were often made as targets entered or left their homes, since they were most vulnerable at this point and where mistaken identity was least likely. An opposition journalist was assassinated outside his home in Belgrade just a few days before Ms Dando's murder, and the method used in both cases was identical.

Cold case reviews by police after 2008 have concluded that Jill Dando was killed by an assassin in a "hard contact execution". Pressing the gun against her head would have acted as a suppressor - muffling the sound of the shot and preventing the killer from being splattered with blood. Conservative MP Patrick Mercer (who had served with the British Army in Bosnia) was reported as saying "It had all the hallmarks of covert forces. The killer even used specially tailored ammunition, which was a Serbian assassination trademark and something I saw when I was over there."



My Thoughts on the murder of Jill Dando


I have spent some time reading about Jill Dando's murder. Unsolved cases are intriguing and the need to solve the case is huge - and I'm not even a detective. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for detectives who investigated the murder to deal with not being able to solve the case. I went through a series of thoughts while reading about the murder, and I'm sure the detectives did exactly the same. 


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My reading (before I had finished) led me to suspect one person (bare in mind this is the mind of a crime-writer working), Mr Alan Farthing's ex-wife. Mr Farthing was separated from his wife when he met Jill Dando, and a couple of months after his divorce was final Mr Farthing and Ms Dando announced their engagement. This led me to wonder about the ex-wife and how amicable, or not, the separation was. Could she have been angered by his engagement? Was she hoping he would go back to her? In any book or movie she would be the go-to suspect. 

A neighbour of Ms Dando reported seeing a six-foot tall white man, aged around 40, walking away from Ms Dando's house at the time of the murder. It was later thought this was the only certain sighting of Jill Dando's killer. So Mr Farthing's ex-wife couldn't have committed the murder herself - but what if she hired someone to do it for her? Again though, the facts dispute this. Professional assassins wouldn't use poor quality weapons or ammunition and the forensic examination of the cartridge suggested the weapon was the result of a workshop conversion or decommissioned gun, so my theory didn't work.

After reading about the police conclusion, in 2008, that Jill Dando was killed by an assassin, I suspect the speculation about Yugoslav, or Serbian, involvement is probably right. The journalist killed in the same way Jill Dando was murdered is a red flag at least and the bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia's headquarters just days before her murder could suggest retaliation. 

Unfortunately we may never know who murdered Jill Dando.



Who would be your prime suspect for the murder of Jill Dando?

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