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EDITIONS
Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Dando 'killed by hitman'
Barry George
Barry George denies murdering Jill Dando
Jill Dando was killed by a professional hitman - and not by Barry George who is accused of her murder, an Old Bailey jury has been told.

Opening the case for the defence, Michael Mansfield QC also said the case against her alleged killer was "hanging by the merest of threads".

Miss Dando was gunned down on the doorstep of her home in Gowan Avenue, Fulham, west London, on 26 April 1999.

Mr George, 41, of Crookham Road, Fulham, denies murder.

Miss Dando
Miss Dando was found dead on her doorstep
Mr Mansfield said the BBC presenter had been killed in a "planned and carefully executed" assassination.

"Barry George's case is not merely that he did not commit this crime, but that it was a crime committed in a professional manner by a professional hitman," he said.

Contamination risk

The prosecution had attempted to "erect an evidential edifice" based on a speck of firearms residue allegedly found in Mr George's coat pocket, said Mr Mansfield.


For Jill Dando to have been murdered by such a precision shooting with a single muffled shot, it has to be the work of a professional assassin

Michael Mansfield QC, defending

He said the tiny particle was the only evidential link between the crime and the defendant.

Mr George's coat could have been innocently contaminated after it was taken from him by police, he maintained.

He said the defence would prove that there was a real risk of contamination in the way the police handled the coat.

And the defence would call its own expert witnesses to prove that therefore the particle "cannot be taken as reliable evidence."

No other particles were found at Mr George's flat, Mr Mansfield said, and nor were any firearms or ammunition.

Mr Michael Mansfield QC arrives at the Old Bailey 14.06.01
Michael Mansfield QC: Serbian link suggested
Mr George had been kept under police surveillance in the weeks leading up to his arrest, the court heard.

No one had seen any attempt to dispose of property or that he frequented any other premises.

And no witnesses had identified the defendant as the gunman.

Mr Mansfield told the court some witnesses called by the prosecution themselves put Mr George at another location at the alleged time of the shooting.

"These timings preclude him committing the murder in Gowan Avenue," he said.

Hidden assailants

Mr Mansfield then spoke about the "window of opportunity" for the killer, which he described as "extremely narrow".

He said the killer had just 30 seconds between Miss Dando getting out of her car and the time her scream was heard by a neighbour.

Miss Dando's former house
Miss Dando was shot outside her home
That meant the killer would have been hanging around in Gowan Avenue beforehand, but no one had seen anybody.

"The most obvious explanation for the absence of anyone loitering nearby is that they were ... secreted in a vehicle parked in Gowan Avenue driven by an accomplice," Mr Mansfield suggested.

Evidence suggested Miss Dando had been forced down to ground level by the assailant's right arm around her back, producing a human vice grip in which she was firmly held, he added.

The gun would have been in his left hand.

"We say for Jill Dando to have been murdered by such a precision shooting with a single muffled shot, it has to be the work of a professional assassin."

Serbian connection

Mr Mansfield suggested Miss Dando's life and activities could have provoked such an assassination from at least two potential sources.

Three weeks before her death, she had made an appeal on behalf of Kosovan refugees which was followed by Nato bombing the Serbian television station in Belgrade.

And after her death the BBC received a series of calls claiming a link between the bombing and the murder, Mr Mansfield told the court.

A second potential reason for assassination was her work on the Crimewatch programme, where there was a high conviction rate on the cases she personally presented, said Mr Mansfield.

An aggrieved individual may have believed the programme was itself helping police, and literally fired a warning shot, he said.

The trial was adjourned until Friday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"Jill Dando had presented an appeal for Kosovan refugees on BBC television"
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