Barry George Conviction Quashed
By Jeremy Moore onShare:
By Jeremy Moore, from Inside Time issue December 2007
On 15th November, Barry George’s conviction for the murder of Jill Dando in April 1999 was quashed by the Court of Appeal and he now faces a retrial some time in 2008.
Here his solicitor Jeremy Moore from Carter Moore reports on the case. This was Barry’s second appeal, the case having been referred back to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission earlier this year.
The appeal concerned forensic evidence presented by the prosecution at trial in respect of a single microscopic particle of firearms discharge residue, “FDR”, found in the pocket of a coat which was seized more than a year after the death of Miss Dando, which contained similar components to a particle found in the victim’s hair.
At the first trial in 2001, the defence had focussed on several different scenarios as to possible innocent explanations to explain how the particle had arrived in the coat pocket; for instance by contamination at a police station to which the coat had been taken on one occasion and inexplicably removed from its packing prior to examination. The prosecution expert at trial had, however, given evidence to suggest that the likelihood of innocent contamination in the manners suggested was ‘very unlikely’.
What no-one at the trial had addressed satisfactorily however was the likelihood of the particle surviving in the pocket, had Barry been present at the scene of the crime, for the 12 months between the shooting and the examination of the coat. When this question was raised with both the prosecution expert from the trial and other experts that we instructed, their expert opinion was that this was just as unlikely as the innocent contamination explanations. The FDR evidence was therefore ‘neutral’, i.e. inconclusive.
What it really came down to was how the evidence was presented at court. It was particularly common in years gone by for forensic evidence to be presented by the prosecution as ‘supportive’ of the prosecution case or adding some weight to it. The modern approach however is for an expert to assess the probability of finding the forensic evidence, in this case the particle, in the alternate scenarios presented by the prosecution and the defence. In this particular case, as the two alternate scenarios presented were of equal probability the evidence was in reality of no evidential value.
In the circumstances, the appeal judges agreed that the jury had been misled at trial into attaching undue weight to this evidence and, given that this was effectively the only evidence put forward directly linking Mr George to the scene and a key part of the prosecution case, they ruled that the verdict was therefore unsafe.
This case has always been seen in many circles as an unsatisfactory conviction and whilst we are very pleased to get to where we are now, it is disappointing that Barry has already had to serve seven years of a life sentence. We look forward to finally achieving justice for Barry at the retrial, which will probably take place in the summer of 2008.