Celebrity killings in Britain are rare, and in London itself almost unheard of. But on the morning of 26th April 1999, a woman who was, ironically best known to millions of TV viewers as the co-presenter of a True Crime TV show, became the UK’s most talked about victim. To this day, her killer remains unknown to the police and, in all probability, will ever remain so.
Jill Dando was an elegant woman, a typical English Rose with more than a little of the Princess Diana about her. As on-screen partner to Nick Ross in BBC’s Crimewatch, she had become one of the best known faces in living rooms across the country. Dando had spent the night with her fiancee in Chiswick, West London, but as she turned the key to enter her own house in nearby Gowan Avenue, Fulham (right), she was attacked. The investigative journalist Bob Woffinden describes what he believes happened next.
“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 left 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.”
Dando was found slumped on her front porch, but her final journey to Charing Cross Hospital need not have been accompanied by sirens and a speeding ambulance. The single shot, from a 9mm handgun, had killed her instantly.
It had been a mere two years since the British public had been robbed of another celebrity icon, Diana Princess of Wales, and there was an intense clamour for Jill Dando’s killer to be brought to justice. No-one was really sure who was responsible for Diana’s death, but surely it wouldn’t be beyond the wit and wisdom of the London police to track down a man assassinating a much-loved public personality, in broad daylight, on a peaceful suburban street?
In a move which seems more bizarre as every day passes, police arrested a man named Barry George (left) for the killing. George had extensive mental problems, was a fantasist, and had form as being a total indaquate who was obsessed with celebrities. He was convicted of Jill Dando’s muder on 2nd July 2001 but, beyond the jury at his trial, and a few desperate police officers, no-one really believed that he was the killer. After a retrial, he was acquitted of the killing in August 2008. To say he was a loser is misleading, because since his acquittal he has won substantial damages from various newspapers and media outlets. How much of this money has been retained by the wronged man is uncertain: what is more likely is that opportunist lawyers and publicists have trousered much of the loot as a reward for their services.
Dando’s killer will never be found. It was clearly a professional job, and has all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored hit. The hats of many possible suspects have been thrown into the ring including a killer in the employ of the Serbian government. As off-the-wall as this sounds, there is a faint thread of logic running through the claim. Dando had presented televised appeal for donations to a fund in aid of Kosovan refugees fleeing Serbian aggressors. Bear in mind that in the late 1990s the Balkans were the scene to some of the worst atrocities of an already blood-besmirched 20th century. Remember that Serbian military and political leaders at the time have subsequently been convicted for war crimes. Consider the unpalatable fact that execution, assassination and brutality had been a common tactic used by Serb nationalists over decades.
Jill Dando’s murder remains one of the enduring unsolved killings to have occurred on a London street. Usually murders are personal and the killers are so stoked up with passion or the desire for revenge that they leave traces and are soon brought to justice. Not so with the death of the much-loved TV presenter. The conspiracy theorists have had a field day, but the case is cold. As Blackadder might have said, as cold as a frozen icicle clinging to an ice-wall in a Siberian refrigerator.